In our Craft Capsules series, authors reveal the personal and particular ways they approach the art of writing. This is no. 171.
Let’s talk about holes.
In my new book, I Do Everything I’m Told, published in June by Tin House, there is a poem called “I’m Smarter Than This Feeling, But Am I?” The first line of the poem states: “I watch your film about fisting,” invoking a beloved who is a filmmaker. Only it becomes clear that the film is not really explicitly about fisting, but follows a filmmaker who looks through a telescope deep into the cosmos. The telescope transforms into a wormhole-like tunnel. The tunnel somehow becomes an orifice. In the cinematic hole, which recalls black holes as much as it does the birth canal, an argument about orifices emerges.
Etymologically, orifice comes from the Latin or-, for mouth, and facere, meaning to make or do: interestingly, mouth-making. It also can mean “the opening of a wound” and has multiple origins in Sanskrit (“puts, places”), Greek (“to put, set, place)”, and Old Persian (“to make”). Put together, there is a triangulation of mouth, wound, and making/setting. If an orifice makes a mouth, it also provides an opening, sets up a passage. And it is often the site of the most intimate relationality. Donna Haraway, celebrated scholar of feminist science studies, once said that “sex, infection, and eating were old relatives.” By this, they meant, I think, that the moment in which your own bodily sovereignty is breached by some other being—whether it is another human, a virus, or a different species that has been ingested—an intimacy is sprung. You are no longer just your own body. You have become multiple, relational, boundless. You fuck, and bodies become entangled. You eat the apple, and you are full of apple. You get the virus, and you succumb to its spell. We are no longer just ourselves.
“All I want is boundless love,” Frank O’Hara once wrote, and I’ve been thinking about boundlessness. About what we risk when we are boundless with others until they are no longer other, until the wall of separation lowers or dissipates into mist. Such intimacy. A womb drive. A distant memory of plurality. We might think we’d never be lonesome again.
But boundlessness has its cost. It can feel violent when our bodily sovereignty is disrupted. Not all boundlessness—as when we are taken over by a fever—is welcome. We are put under the power of something outside ourselves: the rules of a foreign game. In fact, many have argued that the language of contagion and illness reflects a racialized and xenophobic discourse of foreignness, of otherness. But I don’t want to steer too far off course here. My priorities are to think about how we write about what happens when we come undone.
One of my favorite poems about holes is Jameson Fitzpatrick’s poem, “Grasping at Being Filled” from the remarkable collection Pricks in the Tapestry (Birds, 2020). In it the speaker counts holes of all kinds: The absence of fathers. Holes of sexual difference and childhood. The holes of that feeling of forever. The holes left by our dead friends. The holes our militarized nation makes on other soil. The poem seems to understand that without holes, there is no desire—but there is also no pain. The hole is the wound from what has left, continues to leave, asks to be filled after it’s gone. In the poem, the holes accumulate until the speaker asks God to “fuck my mind for good /... / dissolve it / into absolute equanimity.” That word “dissolve” kills me. It’s the liquid metaphor, the want to stop being solid, that hits me. The “hole” becomes “whole” at the end of the poem, calling attention to the way boundlessness promises to keep us undifferentiated from the world and therefore transgressed to the point where there is no boundary left to be transgressed.
“When you say they make you feel whole, what do you mean?” my therapist challenges me in one session. She tells me to be suspect of wholeness. To be suspect of the language of fate and the cosmos when I tell her, in a performatively rational moment, how a series of chance circumstances threw me together with someone who I wanted badly to avoid. Of course, I didn’t want to avoid them at all. We were fated, I said, to always find each other. The trap of destiny was in my throat. She sighed. The desire, so much, to become undone to the point of being fluid: I can envelop anything. How god-like. What power. And that’s the tough pill to swallow. When our beloved “completes” us we become gods, temporarily. We become omniscient, and we never get over it. We chase that feeling, maybe one we had in the womb, where our vulnerability to another has the potential to transform us into feeling like maybe we don’t have to live in our bodies, alone.
In the book Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (Feminist Press, 2013) by trans scholar Paul Preciado, translated from the Spanish by Bruce Benderson, the speaker talks about fucking their girlfriend with a dildo. They call it digging. A way to dig a “hole” in her body “through which music flows.” They also say that the anus is the orifice that closes the divide between genders—a kind of short-circuit of sexual difference—and, later, that the body is always desiring power: “seeking to swallow it, eat it, administer it, wolf it down, more, always more, through every hole, by every possible route of application. Turning oneself into power.”
Desire is a route to deification, in a way. I try to think about this when I write. In “I’m Smarter Than This Feeling, But Am I?” I ask the beloved why they’re obsessed with smut and interiority. By our inner drunk shipwrecks. They respond, as they did in real life: “It’s not smut, it’s a love story.” We write our lyrical poems as if what we want from our beloveds is for them to love us. Or to punish them. Or to confess to them. We are so certain of our intentions. But our beloveds hold a sovereignty that is their own self-rule, their own power, and the pleasures and violence of any boundlessness is not knowing that there also might be care where there is dissolution. Later, in the poem, my speaker says: “You see who I was before I was a was. An am.” So powerful, that sentiment. To be seen as dust. Before the body’s edges. Before time itself.
Megan Fernandes is a writer living in New York City. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, the American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, among many other outlets. Her third book of poetry, I Do Everything I’m Told, was published in June by Tin House. She is an associate professor of English and the writer-in-residence at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.Art: Fotografías con Limón