Instructions for Preparing Your Skin by Ariana Nadia Nash


Winner of the 2011 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry. "Ariana Nadia Nash's INSTRUCTIONS FOR PREPARING YOUR SKIN is an exquisitely passionate first book. Mostly I am struck by the lyrical frankness of the poems, and how they sustain an uncanny purity and yet are totally down to earth."—Malena Mörling

Instructions for Preparing Your Skin is a startling book in which so much is at stake. Love poems morph into hate poems into indifference poems then back again into deeper love poems. Nash's stark raw material is transformed into verse as honest and clear as the mirrors in which we recognize ourselves. There is no way to prepare for these striking poems that strike against any temporary assuredness we may have about our bodies and each other.Instructions for Preparing Your Skin is candid, revelatory, and uncompromising in its vision. -- Denise Duhamel, judge, 2011 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry


To Hold the Body in My Hand

I peel back my skin and scoop 
the origins out of myself 
like embryonic papaya seeds
from the center of the fruit.
No different than 
the condensation of sky 
into rain, the moss-crept 
stone house, the compost --

bodies everywhere exposed
to their own being.

The same rainbow-gray 
of fish-scales, the shriveled
density of cloves -- I am inside
out and desiccating, everywhere
expanding with scent.

This the carious flesh, I say,
this the progenitive seed.



After Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror

I am reflected misshapen, dis-
membered. I can't see myself 
for a yellow-white,
can't see I'm the sun 
lighting the profile of the moon,
cratered and glowing.
I think I am turning into green string.


Self-Portrait as Bunraku

My puppeteers, they move me well. 
One part of me trained 
for thirty years so she could 
control my right arm and head -- 
be my omozukai (read: 
oh myself, I). She 
is the part of me which is grace 
and knows thoughtfulness
comes to my heart when she takes
my hand to my chin. Another part 
spent twenty years, and so grasped my left arm.
She is called sashizukai
(read: she is I) and is the one who feels 
an arm gesticulating means I'll empathize. 
A third part of me, she started late, 
an apprentice and so 
controls only my feet. 
Her name is ashizukai (read, I
seize I) because she still has to learn 
even when soles abandon the ground 
the body still holds 
its shape. They each 
control my limbs but wear black veils 
so only this puppet is seen.

The final part of me became my voice, 
my tayu (read: for you) who chanted 
by the shamisen's quivering notes. She 
tells my story and is the only one 
who sits exposed, 
and gives words their rough ululation.

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