The mind and the body. The heavens and earth. God and animal. The speaker in God had a body considers how the image of a higher power is presented to her, beginning with a Catholic upbringing in Kentucky. Speckled with stars and peopled with creatures, these poems employ a trinity of sequences that address a present, past, and possible future—from a troubled reckoning with belief to loss and promise still ahead.
In this debut collection from Jennie Malboeuf, we observe undercurrents of violence and power, the dynamics of memory, gender, marriage, and miscarriage. At times, God is brutal. At times, delicate. Through true stories of animal savagery, God had a body unravels human behavior and undoes the opaque and cryptic mysteries of faith.
"Salient and provoking, sensuous and cerebral, Jennie Malboeuf's poems locate holiness in the living, dead, partial and whole creations of this planet: among them a "cow's eye...so pretty I squinched hard/and wished it back to the socket"; a "redback spider [that] throws himself/into the hollow fangs of his beloved..." ; a dead whale whose "mouth hung open/like a friendly doorway," until "...that certain scent of ending... makes the human fantasy of welcome clear." Yes, we are like the animals—whether tiny or enormous—but make no mistake: they are themselves, worthy of our attention and our reverence, rarely reflecting us. As Malboeuf puts it, "the birds we kept/in cages fought any mirror." The poet laces her observant news of these encounters with a biblical re-envisioning, as well as with her own peculiar wit: for example, in "The Cow's Eye," Malboeuf notes that "Daddy picked it up from the stockyards... He said it'd help with my science project." In another encounter, the speaker's father has a run-in with a mosquito: "at the height of an anecdote, a mosquito, a female,/flew inside his head." The humor there is spiky and profound. At the doctor's office, the daughter gets to see "the mold of hot wax they poured to pull her—preserved in flight—right out." In "The Hydra," that organism is described as "a penis-shaped creature with a spider/topping its head." This poet thrives amid and among other bodies, observing, feeling, and listening, trying very hard not to cut life short or diminish its sacredness with fallible descriptions, while acknowledging with her striking wit our human-centric eye. I relish these poems and will return to them for their stories, their humor, and the ways they intertwine language and life."
Lisa Williams, author of Woman Reading to the Sea
"There is a fierce spirituality and mordant wit in God had a body, Jennie Malboeuf's first book of poems. Here is a poet with a transformative vision of divine and earthly enterprise as well as a sharp eye for the repercussions of physical detail. Malboeuf's use of enactments and embodiments—actions and images—startle and awaken the reader to a powerful new voice in American poetry. What a glorious debut collection."
Stuart Dischell, author of Children with Enemies
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Table of Contents
First Death Ever Filmed
Christ is a Great Blue Heron
The Cow's Eye
Animals in the Bible
Frog Gig, 1983
Some Things Have Been Heard Enough
The Meaning of God
A Figure for the Holy Ghost
Early Signs of the Apocalypse
Song of the Cock
Men in My Bed as Dead Animal in Dog Mouth
Landscape Where I Forget My Father
Animals in Captivity
The Giving Away
What the Eclipse Does to Animals
The Miracle of the Pigs
Landscape Where I Miss My Mother
In the Myths
Ode to the Cannibal
Man, Beast, Lion, Bird
Thought Inventory with Rorschach and Caesura
Topography of a Bird
Newfound Star System
To Begin With
Heavy Animals, or Frustrated Attempts to See God
The Lesser Water Boatman
Orgasm as Lapwing
Reasons We Should Be Together
The Night We Decided Was a Day