Natural History, a lyric essay by M. J. Gette


in-an-i-mate: (adj) lifeless; dull
The fawn is curled at the base of a papier-mâché tree, in
a 4’ x 7’ forest looping loon sounds and rain from I don’t know where—I am on the other side of its glass habitat when I learn how to trap the moon. It’s easy if you understand (the soul is parenthetical to) the body, that a word is material for motion and animus means anything from spirit to vehemence to pride. The moon has faces. The fawn is still. I stare at its curated body awhile: a taxidermic figurine sapped of will (poor animus empty animal) and fluorescent.


an-i-mus: (n) spirit; soul

The moon sits still in the black sky and its “soul” is the light from the sun. We can’t see both lit up a la vez because we are always turning away from one and toward another. We believe (the eclipse is momentary, sound is a consequence of silence, darkness is a prelude to light, etc., etc.) God is the sun, or God is the man in the moon. I don’t believe either, but when I was little I used to stare at both, willing myself blind because I’d learned in church that the light of the world would rub mud into my eyes and now I see, now I see.


an-i-mism: (n) belief that inanimate objects have a soul
Older, no less vexed, I heard many times that the limits of my language meant the end of the world, so yo pensaba que (if I mastered every language, existing or dead) posería toda la sabiduría que había existido a travéz del tiempo (my world, limitless, the moon, mine). Yo pensaba que if I named the liminal spaces, constellations, or ghosts of hunted animals, I’d save my own soul. I’d conquer the New World (el mundo desconocido) with words (sería libre). But I didn’t know that para estar libre (in a time, in a place) I’d have to live every life from the first person over all of history, all at once. (My soul, my unspoken native tongue). I’d have to be omniscient. I’d have to be God. (I can’t explain more, but I know the languages of three conquerors.)


an-i-mus: (n) passion; intellect; consciousness
I also studied Kaqchikel. The beginner class, who barely knew how to say hola spent a whole day on position words for lying face down, or facing the wall, or sitting with my back to you. Why learn how to say words for states of being, I asked, if I don’t know how to ask your name? You are too interested in conversation, my teacher said, en la lengua, our indigenous tongue, we learn how things are before we learn how to relate to them. Even so, no word exists apart from who is relating to it. Por ejemplo, my mother has a name I call her, but my brother calls her something else, and my mother calls me a name my brother does not call me. I am how I see the moon. I am something else with my back to you.


an-i-mus: (n) the mind; vehemence
I learned that names for the parts of the body had the same
roots as the parts of the house: the wach (face) of a building (wachoch, i.e., the façade is the same as your wach, which means eyes with another suffix and I greet you—como estás—by saying la utz awachdoes beauty fall into your eyes?) Does moonlight fall into the window? Is my mouth always a door? Am I only somebody when I relate to you? Does the house exist without me? Do I, without you?


an-i-mus (v): to notice; to kill
Yo doy a luz to bodies by naming them, but to simplify the goal of learning every language (not enough time) and living every life (there are limits) I write poems—I light the fawn and the moon. (I give soul to the dead or voiceless.) (Or I kill them with a word, depending who is asking.) The poem transcends glass borders: de la lengua, del cuerpo, de la pared because it translates how I am—y no soy nada ni nadie, no se nada ni nadie—into words another understands (o sea ninguna de nosotros sabe nada) in the language of essences, o dios (o el alma).


animar (vtr): to inspire; cheer up; enliven
(Me di cuenta que cuando estuve en Guatemala, hablando Castellano y tratando la manera de traducirlo a Kaqchiquel, no podía recordar quien era yo en mi propia lengua, que mi deseo por ser otra en una lengua que pertenecía en geografía a donde yo vivía mató mi personalidad. (I forgot who I was in favor of who I wanted to be.) Construí una casa para mi nueva lengua por que no era posible ser quien era en mi casa, en mi país de origen. (As if to survive homesickness was to become someone else entirely.) Dios cambió porque la lengua cambió. No había moon en Guatemala, había luna. No habían fawns—habían cervatillos, y aunque yo no había comido animales antes que llegara, cambié mis creencias—y se los comía.)


animus revertendi (n): intent to return
The moon shows parts of itself based on our relation to its face, how we spin, how we confront it, spinning—(as I trap an animal, I lasso the moon by angling my body to it and to another’s and I name the parallax. A shot rings out. Hello, captured fawn. Hola, luz from a thousand sources. La utz awach? I am how I see you). The loop we listen hard for is a kind of animation, the space between us may be a war or a loss in translation (animosity, silence, blindness) and I stand in front a glass coffin for a dead fawn, like a sky full of stars that burnt out long before I ever saw them, or began to give them names.




M. J. Gette is an MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Minnesota. Her work has appeared in Otoliths, Eratio, Indefinite Space, Fugue, Rufous City Review, and elsewhere.