The Old Philosopher by Vi Khi Nao
Poetry | $15.95
paperback, 80 pages, 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 in
Publication Date: 2016
review by: Bailey Pittenger
Vi Khi Nao’s poems inhabit a lyrical space within the shell of the body—slicing between past and future in order to carve the meaty line of the present. And, the poems within The Old Philosopher (Nightboat Books, 2016) are made of the lines materialized when thighs meet. They are tangible, tender, and threaten to open and reveal either (or both) pain and fantasy.
And, as you read, you will “have this fantasy” of descending through your body in a glass elevator tapered thin like the edge of a blade. You thought you knew the body from your obligatory studies of either a spiritual text or biology, but the poems of The Old Philosopher take both spirituality and the lived life and convince you that there are bodily spaces comparable to the cosmos of your own inner universe.
You press “B” for basement, but the machine halts in an organ filled with language “of kernel, core, nucleus, the / nub and gist of my tight muscles clutching” the tiniest details of losses and loves. The “interior walls of / […] English-ived stomach” recalls your shared memories of mothers, internalized as bodily plants, digested to their essential oils.
And, Nao peels the skin from language like the exoskeleton from a shrimp. Continue reading and you’ll run your fingernail along the lines and feel your own body gently peeled. The pages feel as delicate as this skin; it’s as if they were actually made from the pulverized wood of five hundred bonsai trees.
The elevator continues to taper into a thinner edge and you’re covered in tiny female lizard hands clutching you like the crumbs coating shrimp tempura.
Stripped, revealed, and covered in the feelers of human and animalistic emotion, you’ll come away wanting to read it all again, but you’ll find yourself on an entirely new floor of the internal. And you’ll appreciate and crave the taste of tracing the line of now between a lover’s thighs. You’ll request your skin peeled infinitely more.
Bailey Pittenger resides in the midwest, where she is an MFA candidate at the University of Notre Dame. Most of her dreams involve water. Her most recent work is forthcoming in NANOfiction.