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Lila Zemborain
mauve sea-orchids (Trans. Rosa Alcalá and Mónica de la Torre)
reviewed by
Marie Larson
93pp Belladonna Books. Paper. US $14.00 0976485745

This review is about 3 printed pages long. It is copyright © Marie Larson and Jacket magazine 2009.
See our [»»] copyright notice.

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When one descends into the deep, regresses to the depths, the eye detached from the grasping hand, the mobilizing posture, is detached from its look, moved now by its own voluptuous desire. The voluptuous eye does not seek to comprehend the unity in the surface dispersion of shapes, to penetrate to the substance beneath the chromatic appearances, to comprehensively apprise itself of the functions and the relationships; it caresses, is caressed by the surface effects of an alien domain.
            — Alphonso Lingis, Excesses: Eros and Culture

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In Lila Zemborain’s mauve sea-orchids we are presented with a field of blurred bodies, pearlescent with longing and without barrier. There is no immutable inside or outside here except in the most exorbitant sense — everything is inside, and everything is outside. Or, more precisely perhaps, these bodies are not quite borderless but sensually dissected into permeable components that, propelled by love or desire, gingerly grope for each other in their ocean of blindness and vertigo. These poems carry a tone that meshes the visceral lover with the calculating scientist. They are sensually scientific, written as if by a biologist doped with Ecstasy: “a steamy liquid that causes a heightened / sensation of self-contained love; it is as if / cells were kissing each other, a bodily chain / of kisses suffusing one with joy.”


The joy of desire fulfilled in these poems is balanced with the ache of unfulfilled longings, both functionalities being part of the ecstatic experience. The word “ecstasy”, (or ekstasis) from the Ancient Greek, έκ-στασις (ex-stasis), means to stand outside oneself, to transgress the bodily border. Or perhaps, in the case of mauve sea-orchids, the ecstatic is reached by a distension of the bodily border rather than a transgression of it. The body/body image is inflated until it usurps the world creating a vast sea of cells, organs, and narcissistic love-touch:


            … the body like an arrow tensioned in
all directions, arms and legs elongated in water,
altitude and depth on the surface, floating
in the rhythmic inhalation and exhalation of
desire, of the number, of distance, of the head
submerged between the green and celestial, in
the multitude of bubbles and guttural sounds,
that comes no longer from the throat but from
a vague zone; machine, motor, blade, oar, arm
that stretches, leg that sinks, body that slides
in a progression of silver liquid, semi-circular
eyes, immense air that the body emits, as if the
miraculous simultaneity of all the elements
made movement possible: water scratch, seam
in the current, placid groove in the sky’s liquid
membrane, potent syncopated animal, docile
bewilderment, oblique frequency

(Zemborain 73-75)


Desire in these poems is a primordial constant, a prime mover, the liquid and unquenchable insistence of life itself. Like the tactile scent of orchids it is an invisible stimulus that “overflows and contains.” (Zemborain 27) The ebb between containment and spill speaks to how the body/bodies yearn to expose themselves in these poems. They secrete their secrets and caress their alien nakedness.


In Excesses: Eros and Culture Alphonso Lingis writes:


The organ that caresses is afflicted with the passivity and the passion of the skin; it is moved, affected, affectionate, moves to be in contact with it, as though in pity, but in a pity that does not know how to console and does not aim to heal, complacent compassion. Forms tremble and deform in the agitations of caresses; gropings, manipulations and abandon succeed one another. The organ that caresses is solicitous, but with an audacious and violent tenderness. It struggles to disrobe, disarm, unmask, denude every decency, to hold every gesture and silence every signal, to disconnect the underlying apparatus, to expose exposure itself.

(Lingis 11)


This work of Zemborain towards a primordial ecstasy intricately knits, or exposes the close-knitting of, life to death in a single glimmering fabric:


a sense of illness and health emerges from the
waves to project an evanescent understanding,
as if health and illness were there in dissolution
and form, in the arabesque unwinding itself in
the depth of the genes, in the sudden tangle
of cells or in the mystery that slyly advances
in the infinite confusion which forms us; to
almost understand that there is a coherence
and to see with such precise clarity that it makes
the eyes even greener, the vast certainty of the
waves on the shore more transparent, where
bodies like yours and mine in the passing hours
disintegrate to form the sand’s golden surface

(Zemborain 71)


This series of poems creates one erotogenic surface after another until the universe is all surface, all liquid caress and scent. Figures exceed the verdant and möbial landscape, orient and disorient, before sinking again below the horizon to where the sea is all surface, all touch, and, like a jelly inside the black interior, they are hydrostatic, an exposed and porous net of nerves.


“The tendency to exceed every structure or term, until it attains the unending, this drive that of itself pushes on until it would be transported by the pure effulgence of the rapturous, is eros’s very nature.” (Lingis 56) The unending-ness of desire, its insatiability, is conveyed not only in the imagery and languorous urgency the poems build but also the structure.


The line breaks give themselves over to the length and fluidity of the sentence-thoughts that do not end in periods but semi-colons, further linking each thought into an extended strand. Each strand is centered, eschewing the hard edge of the left or right margin, lending a spineless cohesion to each poem and extending the reach of each line into the blankness that surrounds it. The square shape of the book allows for wide margins exaggerating the way each group of text nuzzles into the space of the page.


In writing this review it is apparent to me how the residue of the book still coats my “over-mind” (Zemborain 3). I feel pulled to write myself back into its consuming sensual language. My body, all our bodies, become a loop linked with the loop of this book. There is no macro or micro world here. These poems negate scale or expose it. There is no code. It gives us its secret.


Invoking the body of the reader, Zemborain also invokes the universe making them more intimate and more alien to each other and themselves. Everything is your own viscera and your viscera are strange and uncontainable, crawling into someone else’s body which turns out, again, to be your own. We are drawn to an unknown that is not separate from the self. The density of life permeates the text, is everywhere, and each phrase-cell contains the entire book, which is a book of origins.

Works Cited

Lingis, Alphonso. Excesses: Eros and Culture. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1984.

Zemborain, Lila. Mauve Orquideas Del Mar / Mauve Sea-Orchids. Trans. Rosa Alcalá and Mónica de la Torre. Brooklyn: Belladonna Books, 2007.

Marie Larson

Marie Larson

Formerly the Director of Marketing at Woodland Pattern Book Center, Marie Larson is now a MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Her work has appeared in GAM, Fell Swoop, DIAGRAM, Shampoo and Bombay Gin. She has work forthcoming in the anthology Chicken Boa: Notes on Skrilla (Mitzvah Chaps) and Fact-Simile.

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