Discovering the Relevance of Words
“How do you make a person / stop living inside you,” may very well be the central question of Zachary Cosby’s chapbook, Cave (Bottlecap Press, 2015). The easiest way to read these lines might be to view them as a call to self-negation. But Cosby’s work offers a richer alternative and simultaneously begs the question of just who this ‘person’ is. If we can turn briefly from one possible reading of ‘person’ as representative of the somewhat egotistical notion of self—this reading is possible, I think, because other people never actually live inside of us physically—and instead understand ‘person / …living inside you’ as an internalized (and thus also egotistical) version of the other (in this case, literally another person), then perhaps we are about to discover, through Cosby’s lucid, bare bones writing, that the opposite of carrying a projection of the other within us is to live with the other beside us. But why embark on this journey at all? Because, according to Cosby, internalizing the other may create an almost excruciating, somewhat violent life form of its own:
riot in my stomach.
they gather in kerosene crowds
they want to burn their home
just as their home wants to burn them.
In light of these almost cannibalistic urges, how are we then to make our way from our internalized conception of the other to the living, breathing other beside us? The argument of Cave lies in Cosby’s sometimes visceral language:
i thought your teeth
were soft white linen
paper wings on a crucifix
a red gaping cut.
Here, Cosby grounds us in the essence of the corporal body. Even the crucifix, which may under other circumstances bring to mind primarily thoughts of religious (otherworldly?) devotion, serves in this usage to focus the reader on the devotion of the earthy, the tactile, the what-is-standing-next-to-us. Cosby also insists on the very tangible reality of skin, that layer of our bodies that allows us to exercise our sense of touch, and in so doing, to brush up against all other bodies. As Cosby writes, “everything i write sweats / that first time we met. // all things / are made of skin.” A virtual litany follows on the next page, in which Cosby lists everyday objects in groups of threes and then completes each cycle with the single, italicized assertion, “skin.” Through repetition of cycle, in the ever-insistent whisper of “skin,” “skin,” Cosby drives home the point that it is not only our physical bodies, but rather the minutia of everyday bodies (“the carpets,” “guilt smell,” “the ocean”) that have the power to foster connections between us and the other. And this is how we link back into the image of the cave, from which the chapbook takes its name. At the outset of this cycle of poems, we encounter a description of unexplored, unmitigated terrain that threatens to block, to blot out, to overtake. (“you put your head in / but the cave swallowed you.”) By the poem cycle’s end, however, we near another possibility altogether, that of identity suffused into the body of the world—“all things human // leak to silver puddles / around our feet.” Cosby ends his chapbook with lines that indicate our surroundings no longer overwhelm or negate us but rather take on our own characteristics, give us back to ourselves.