This is a poem written in prose. This is a story told on the edges of the narrative, in piecemeal both emotional and physical, but always at the gut level. This is about imagined homelands, inherited borders, immigrant experience and rebellion. This is about monsters, what creates them, and how they are born. The malleability of “home.” About hitchhiking, a road trip, menstruation, birth. This is about going, getting gone. This is about cyborgs, machine and creation and control. “Other” identities. The multiplicity of subjectivity.
This is about “what is girl?”
It is futile to attempt to explain this book. In a way that is like the futility of describing what it is to be a girl. To be a monster, an immigrant, a cyborg, a daughter, a body.
This book should be read in one sitting, while on the move. Through no planning I happened to read it on a plane, and then on the San Francisco BART system.
The author(s) [all identities of Bhanu Kapil] spilled their inner mechanics, their monstrous guts, in such a way that it is impossible to not be enveloped in the emotions and sensibilities of the poem. While reading this on BART, a line chilled me and made me look up- and suddenly, with a perfect clarity I realized I was not on BART at all. I was inside a mechanical dragon, that carried me under waters and screamed ferociously in the darkness as it flew with intense speed. Of course, how had I not noticed before. A girl, a monster, inside the dragon, traveling under the water as Kapil had.
As with any poem, the reader picks their favorite lines. Or, notices the lines that call out specifically to them.
“I am writing to you because it is private and separate, like thinking.”
“The monster is that being who refuses to adapt to her circumstances.”
“When you read my palm, it is as if you are hypnotizing my biology.”
“Somatic forms of memory: Once again, the year dissolves into numbers. The rooms are already half full with water.”
“Exhausted, we lean on our heads on the kitchen table in turn, sucking on a piece of chocolate or black Panda licorice, listening to the obvious words at the end of a girl. What a girl is. Sometimes you are fifteen years old in the stories I tell. Sometimes you are not the red of technology, but monstrous or infrared, visible through the walls of a house.”
“This is the story of how I changed my structure.”
“Now I am here, in the future of color.”
I certainly didn't "get" the entire text- it is very experimental writing. But I'm not certain it was written to be understood so much as interpreted, or responded to emotionally. It made me ache in a familiar way- I related to the scattered roles and loss of homeland. The struggle of building 'home' when you lack the capacity to understand it. The process of identities being carved out of and against negative space, where you can really only brush up against "the norm" but never claim it, inherit it, become it.
Of course one can hardly encounter cyborgs in literature and not think of Donna Haraway: "There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices. .... The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust."
As impressive as cyborgs are, I identify much more closely as a girl monster. I am not pristine, no part of my existence turns like clockwork. I am fangs and howls and painted horns. Cyborgs are of the future, but demons are forever.