“And I’m the one with no soul, one above and one below” laments Courtney Love, in her 1994, song “Violet.” I don’t know if the song held any inspiration for Gala Mukolomolova when choosing a title for her lush chapbook out this year from YesYes Books, One Above One Below, Positions and Lamentations, but like the song, her poems lay bare and celebrate the ravages and triumphs of intimacy with one ear to the earth and the other listening to the heavens.
Mukolomolova, who in addition to being an award-winning poet, having won the 2016 92nd Street Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize among other accolades, is also an astrologist for Nylon. She is no stranger to the command form, instructing the reader: “Take the apple your friend offers you in the dark and run your tongue along/the bite. When they laugh too close to your neck, let them,” she writes in “when the dog, who is not your dog.” Her authority is not the authority of a chain of command, rather she is channeling a higher power in these poems.
We have the sense that her words are a generous act of transliteration. “I’m yours tonight every night under sequin, moon dress, purple mirror skipping…” she writes in “Prince is Dead.” Prince, (or the artist formerly known as) is not the only pop star to make an appearance. Lil Kim, George Michael, Kate Chopin, friends with first names, third-person lovers with no names, second-person lovers with no names (“yes you” in the same poem “the lover from now on”), Pulitzer prize winners who rape, and anonymous Craigslist users all make appearances in a sometimes natural, sometimes online, sometimes underground world where we all seek connection.
Mukolomolova’s is an embodied poetry, and like other poets who articulate the somatic experience, (I think of Sappho, Stein, Olds, Ali) her lyrics dance with the wit and eroticism that accompanies it. She writes of eating fish and fucking with equally fresh attentiveness. Salmon recurs frequently in this little book “…I split/our salmon skin/with a dull knife” (from “Good Girl”) perhaps because the erotics are decidedly queer erotics; the poet celebrates and gives fresh language to lesbian love. From the same poem, “You’ll be my cumhole won’t you / she’s not asking, her pussy / slicking / Her mouth rich / butter.” Why salmon? Pinkish-orange, the fish swims against the current, which could also be said for both being queer or being a poet. Mukolomolova is both, and we are lucky she is willing to articulate the story of her swim.
CAITLIN GRACE McDONNELL was a New York Times Fellow in poetry at NYU and has received fellowships from Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poems and essays have been published widely; she published a chapbook, Dreaming the Tree (belladonna 2003) and a book, Looking for Small Animals (Nauset Press, 2012). Currently, she teaches writing and lives in Brooklyn with her nine-year-old daughter.