Wednesday, May 23, 2007



the immaculate autopsy by Todd Melicker, with illustrations by Jason Buchholz
(Achiote Press, Spring 2007)

Birthed from the tip of a thorn .. The vagina lurks within the pear ... Sutured with steel nails ... Feeling your way to map the robot’s anatomy ... The lung labors en compas with the laboring heart ... The bird atop the electrical wire is plastic but what is seen from the highway is bird squatting in full equanimity

The above is a phrase-cloud that came to mind as I read through—I want to say, leaf-ed through—the immaculate autopsy, an elegant eight-part poem by Todd Melicker with illustrations by Jason Buchholz.

I suspect that my phrase-cloud has seeded a new poem. That birth-ing testifies to the deceptive power of the immaculate autopsy. Deceptive, I think, because the words seem to drip across and down the pages—a manner which belies the many layers of the work, not the least of which is an implied density of research, e.g. perhaps into biology, religion and botany. I use the notion of “drips” partly because of the fragmentary nature of the text, and how the words are placed against the page as if the poet deliberately dripped the words into their positions. There is much indentation and caesuras as the poem unfolds.

The effect of the poem deepens, however, not due to its surface but, because of epistemological effects:

               numbers & fruit commence
               on the fingers

we’re gathered & dis-
persed. Calcium builds a house
& eats it

Or, savor this:

all cathedrals are cavities: the intimate
pharmacy of blood:
the hrt moves
against gravity, like a cicada

I assume that my reading is affected by knowing that the immaculate autopsy is one of two inaugural, concurrent publications by Craig Perez’s brand spankin’ new Achiote Press—an effect that encourages me to consider this chap to be the press’ first seed. A seed for Achiote Press’ growth. But also a seed as facilitated by the truncation of many words, e.g. “lves” and “hnd”. Thus, the poem blossoms to maturity only if the reader reads the words as not mere sound-pronunciations but notions to be invested into meanings such as, respectively, “lives” or “loves” and “hand.”

“Hrt”, which is used several times, is particularly effective as it raises the question: “heart” or “hurt”?—

motion of two spoken, one thing we have heard:
‘in our chst, the mary. in her chst, the chrst. in his
chst, the hrt. in the hrt, a thorn with a halo.

Thus, it seems apt that I respond to the work with the beginning of one of my own poems. I believe the power of art can be shown in its ability to inspire new art. To seed.

And the immaculate autopsy seeds new work also simply because of resonant language:

the offering carried to the
bone, the body of the bone
. a numerous
splendor, we form the arch
inside the neck, lying on the voice
we sleep as slender

the nerve is to be sought for,
as it leaves the muscle

                              division @ exit.

                              the remainder

“immaculate”, of course, can’t help but hearken the immaculate conception of the Christian Mary, daughter of and mother of God:

mary tilts her head, the long
neck of heaven, the black
kisses pull back the skin : we’re
only our an(atomy. the cut stem
h(ours ascend, to which give
: all arteries as offerings : the sorrowful
neck of mary

So this poem may autopsy, too, Mary whose inner life as the virgin mother of Jesus Christ—hearkened in the poem as “chrst”—can only be imagined. The required exercise of our (reader’s) imagination befits the truncated words. About Mary’s true feelings versus that ascribed to her by a religion’s priests, any conclusion is inherently incomplete. Just as meaning, already inherently in flux, is destabilized even more by incomplete spellings:

                              a woman is a paper doll,
                              punched from foliage & light
we’ve touched her hnds for
help so many times they crumbl

And just as the words “crumbl”, so do the images presented by Buchholz. The images don’t so much illustrate as facilitate the poem’s search. These reproductions of ink drawings are not abstract but neither are these shapes fixed-ly recognizable. An example is what looks like an upside-down “Y” but whose shape implies a human body which, in turn, looks to be holding up some sort of flower whose long stem makes it almost as tall as the human. But all of the deftly-drawn images, not withstanding or perhaps due to their mysteries, are powerful in that they make the viewer wish to define what they are seeing—which is to say, they draw in the viewer, engage the viewer, and even haunt the viewer.

Haunting, in fact, is a good way to summarize both text and images. With this lush and fertile the immaculate autopsy, Achiote Press is off to a great start in manifesting its vision, as partly articulated by how the press was named: “the achiote plant represents the unrepresentable: the transnational, migratory, adaptive.” The press’ vision statement continues—in an articulation that can be used to summarize as well the particular impact of the immaculate autopsy:

Achiote press asks what it means to bear witness, to use adaptation as resistance, to cross borders, to map ourselves onto a dislocated world, to speak in exile, to suffer diasporic hunger and to make art in windburned, local fields of perception. The journal is named by the”

Yes, the press statement ends there…deliberately and organically incomplete.


Eileen Tabios HEARTS wine, dogs and Thou. She can't do anything but shrug over the loudness of her Silences...


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