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In Review: Human Tissue: a Primer for Not Knowing, Weyman Chan (Talon, 2016)
By Linda Rogers
Seek and ye shall find, the spotlit cover image for Weyman Chan’s fourth book of poems, is a petri dish and a pair of black glasses, heavy enough to bear the weight of possibly malignant growth. Human Tissue mansplains the culture in the dish. That is to say it is complicated, left brain arguing with right.
It is up to the reader to translate Chan’s enigmatic verse and determine whether or not the culture is benign. There is evidence for everything in a collection that ranges from Source Codes to Tactile Gnosis, an oxymoron.
Chan, a medical researcher, is aware that words are the Redeemer’s fire and, like kidneys, are filters. There is so much silt to sift through the human story and human tissue reveals it all under the microscope. Pure gold, the golden shower, is the desideratum, the ultimate source, pennies from heaven. It is all about filtration, transcendence, yes, gnosis maybe.
The collection in seven parts is a book of revelation that defines the air in the zero, the not knowing. Alive with references, his petri dish confuses, questions. There are no finite answers. Ask Alan Turing, who released a modern Frankenstein and saved a nation, all at once. His discovery and punishment, based on science and conventional wisdom, bigotry, is another wild ride around the world, signifying what, the parameters of the circle, Faust’s bad deal.
Do all poems end in catch and release?
In the end, all is done, everything passes through cells that exhaust themselves in the effort of being: pain that leaves invisible marks, monsters “retreating after the deed.” In “Kids Geometry,” an injured child attempting to circumscribe a crime scene with a piece of thread learns, “You can’t take back time.” All that is left is forgiveness and there is so much to forgive in the human story, aspects of which he reveals in cultural and historical reference subtly interspersed in his lateral narratives, the Chinese Diaspora, the history of homophobia, fraternal violence, Aboriginal genocide and diseases that torment human tissue and twist human minds.
The phenomenal world is at once beautiful and ugly. Ultimately, it is all left behind as we rot and rapture. No one knows this better than the poet who reads the human story through a microscopic lens and those black glasses. Even the beautiful designs in nature and anti-nature are potentially malignant, and sex is death.
one bees target coition
ultraviolet landing strips crowd the bosom
or do hyaline cues sex mate-anxiety to kill the darlings in your head?
There are so many darlings in this soup, as rich in references as a bowl of word wonton, every food group represented: science, art, history, ethnicity and geography, the poems, a party in the ear, are best digested as music, sound carrying meaning, meaning ultimately nourishing as
Interim benthic cycles record frabjous humping of honeybees
beneath a manhole cover.