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Shot

Christine Hume’s language, “alive and lying,” takes us – shot or shunted – down into night, the imaginal-space of gestation. Mina Loy’s daughter-poet, Hume composes a Baedeker of the body pregnant, mapping a haunted landscape with a language she makes strange, dream wording a dream world: “I hear myself coming from your thoughts . . . Skull pockets that burn without warnings.”

Christine Hume’s language, “alive and lying,” takes us – shot or shunted – down into night, the imaginal-space of gestation. Mina Loy’s daughter-poet, Hume composes a Baedeker of the body pregnant, mapping a haunted landscape with a language she makes strange, dream wording a dream world: “I hear myself coming from your thoughts . . . Skull pockets that burn without warnings.”

Refusing comfort – or the comfortable – these poems inhabit disturbance, the ragged border edging desire from terror. The speaker’s voice fights its way into existence against itself and night: “I stuffed night’s hem into my mouth” as “If I could move toward it while moving away,” simultaneously turning toward the dark and seeking a way out. In Hume’s Shot, light and waking are doubtful promises, and like night, too potent to either ignore or trust: “The more I battered the moon, the more I could be it.”

Hume’s speaker inhabits a liminal realm, where dread is as near as hope, the body’s disturbance inseparable from the workings of mind:

Steel birds fly from clocks
Striking the hour in rounds
A freak disease tears across the vista
You’ve been told this is the year of medicine
Lunar halo must bother you tonight with some life
War shine and flare lit in the lips

Hume writes us into a delirious landscape, monstrous and lovely, where “stars are swinging doors that miracle the shift,” her night made ours. The body, transformed by the growth of another, becomes defamiliarized, unreliable, given to dry heaves, leg cramps, and night sweats; hormonal, it grows false nipples. Impossibly demanding “She . . . get [her]self out of that flesh suit,” the speaker of these poems knows that she has lost control: “this night your existence depends upon the doubt of a single pair of eyes stoning you from a low bridge.” Hume, in the dark and floundering, chastens herself and us: “Pound at your own belief until it’s empty of you.” Her language wedding illusion and certainty, ambiguity like quicksand under our feet, she dares us, “In what direction do the lost veer?”

Shot opens with a dialogue between mother and unborn child, voices whose intentions and desires move in perpendicular orbits, question and response, the gap of understanding increasing as the dialogue progresses.

Can you hear my lullabies?

As when you descend into the ocean, you find yourself immersed in song; my whole body, made of water and umber, reverberates self-melodies.

. . .

Why do you kick at words?

To get your songs off my hands, I wade through their falls and uplifts. I dreamt a dog was trying to dig me out.

In “AMBIEN ANTHEM,” the border separating mother and child collapses, forming a single space in which the reader falls, re-encountering immersion/loss/doubt: “An infinity you cannot stop infinity / Each moon each mother each cross-eyed ghost / Containers to be opened only in total darkness.” Here “The future of memory is a motherless force / In the pharmacy of amnesias.” At the forgotten border, two or one, what am I, the body wonders. Hume writes us back into the dark world in which we began, back into that strange condition of both and neither.

Inner and outer worlds shadow one another, the external one entering the strange space of the inner dialogue. “Thank You for the Flowers” hurls color at us that has abandoned description’s passivity: “Orange crawls my skin. It narcotically ticks in my nose. Orange advances earth’s roundness while the reds’ musty stacks are hard to read….Their explosions embed our bed with broken teeth.” Shot’s voices, self and other dialogue, doubt, push back, articulating passage through the estranged body, “love letters” to a self and memory whose forms are permeable and shifting: “dangling in that display, feelers floating out of the rest of the accident.”

“Interlude”: midway, Hume introduces other voices, the mothers. Mother Estrogen. Mother Broker. Mother-in-the-trees. Mother Diazepam and Mother Defect. Cold Mother Plunder and Mother Tomorrow. The voices of desire and horror, of the irreconcilable self, the perpetually constructed persona, role-to-play: what is it, this mother? And who that grainy other in the ultrasound? Another nightmare, dream dialogue ricocheting away from itself: “An owl reshapes its face to shove a new sound down its ear. When you dream, you do the same.” “What will it be like when the fontanel closes for good?” “I can hear the raw wind nursing your sores.” Like the speaker of these poems, we’ll “wake in the uncanniest room of all – my body asleep.” What is this body, the poems query.

Shot follows that body digging itself out, escape and birth one narrative. Even when the blurred boundaries resolve themselves, two distinctly two momentarily, still certainty and comfort refuse themselves. “I Exhume Myself,” the final poem in the collection, warns us in nursery rhymes gone-awry,

Waiting for morning is not the same as sleeping.
A dream is a naked idea snapped awake.
The backward splashes of your feet running through rain.
Singing bye-bye baby gauntling. Daddy’s gone drinking.
(You are not there where I have looked.)
When I raise the manhole lid, I am dead on my feet.
None of the babies come out alive.

In Shot, “Dreaming is a blindness that looks back,” Hume’s rearward glancing taking us in – into the body’s innerscape, nightmare and dream, into the dark unfathomable one-become-two. Gorgeous, unsettling, her language pushing at boundary and expectation, willing its transformation along a parallel passage with that of the gravid, burgeoning body: growth, dis-ease, illness, ill-at-ease, self and not self, bodied and born. Bodying birth. Hume writes a language of the body, a bodied language. A vocabulary of gestation, mother and child, lover and beloved, two selves, or many, one, Shot barrels down a frayed border where no relation is a settled one, the words that compose her journey rocketing us into that fabulous other world where “your skin itself is a black moon / Set against the black lapping.”

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