Human Tetris by Vi Khi Nao & Ali Raz
11:11 Press, forthcoming September 2019.
The title, Human Tetris, gestures to the inherent labor in getting two people to fit together, in physical proximity, in intimate proximity, in mutual desire: first of liking (general) then of liking (specific – sharing or possessing complimentary needs; for example, to be strangled, to have sex every other day in the morning, to or to not produce a parasite that eventually headbutts its way out of one’s (anyone’s) precious vulva (oh, but how cute and how biologically inclined to be possessive of and possessed by said headbutter.) Human Tetris, through a series of personal ads, highlights how a dating ad skips the general affinity and spits (when it talks) the specific desires that kill (or seldomly and miraculously extend) ambient appreciation with a sharp, surgical scalpel: “You: look forward to my incision after a hard day of work” (33).
After strangling, before strangling, pleading for strangling: “We all die a little from loving each other too much” (61). As The Magnetic Fields ironically proclaim, “How Fucking Romantic.” But really though, how romantic. In an ad seeking sexual strangulation, this line takes an aphorism about the nature of love and hones it into an instance of its physical actualization. I’m touched (both when strangled in bed and when reading this connection I have only intuitively and never consciously made before). This poem is a philosophical and poetic insight into taboo sex play. When I read this book again, I will see themes of the relationship between death and love return again and again both in its project of letting clichés live their best garish spectacle of being, and in making uncomfortable the violence inherent in affection and desire.
So, is this a handbook for your online dating needs? Maybe. This horror show of desire somehow shows you how to be honest. The worst that can happen from saying what you want: silence. The silence after every ad. The imagined, the hoped for response, that in the imagining becomes even more starkly, tangibly absent. The ads also teach moderation through shame. Are you embarrassed for these invisible desirers? Better stay invisible yourself. There are still parks and dark bedrooms when roommates are at work, so stay invisible but get actualized. Why not?
The fetishisation of race and gender are the most curdling both of blood and butterflies. I want to be excited but I’m mostly a little sick. But then when I think I can allocate that bad-weird shit to a nameless subject while I sit quietly to the side, just a vanilla-plus who needs an emotional connection with a human before she gets it on, the authors show how emotional and spiritual connections can be fetishes too. Wtf, Nao and Raz, wtf? “I have a small room, queen-size, in my heart to sublet to anyone / who is willing to pay a price for its profound coziness. The room is emotionally intelligent, / has been through a lot, a romantic fire or two, eviction, etc. The room has so many windows: / depart anytime or fly out whenever. Does not hold or take hostages erotically or emotionally. / However, I take the following emolument: / … / Payment: breakfast in bed, comedic sexts, some handful of deceased wild flowers” (53). And we are forced to acknowledge that we are hopeless sex monsters reaching out to lingually touch someone.
“Looking For My Happy Ending” on page 32 is a realistic ad (although still disturbing given the title and speaker, that quotidian, gross power play of sex and affection in relation to social status, money, and age): “Me: 30-something hard-working exec with a thirst for the adventurous and appreciation/ for the truly beautiful…/…/ You: Cute, adventurous, up for new things, have your shit together, and NOT boring!” (32). However common this specific profile is on Tinder, it still feels as strange as all the other ads it’s sandwiched in this book. The bizarre (or at least less visible) scenarios in this book highlight how strange average dating ads actually are.
Human Tetris also does wonders in utilizing common forms of affectionate communication such as talking about candy to relay a kind personality (honey, sweetheart, etc) to show how romance is often just a creepy power play between weirdos AKA everyone. I can easily romanticize “Inun-date Me with Loving Kindness” even though it is essentially creepy af: “Choke me with your dazzling kindness. / Stuff my mouth with loving ashes /…/ take me into your arms and tell me / you love me, in your own special way” (34). This poem in particular, but many of these poems, play off of the long-standing trope of “love as death” and the inherent loss that comes when one enters into union with another person. This poem like so many of the poems in this book, feels wrong but familiar, which makes the book scary af.
The back of the book claims that the authors have very distinct voices. And mostly they do but the saturation of unfiltered (exaggerated?) desire confuses me sometimes and I forget there are two voices. Instead there are 59 voices singing at once in an experimental noise choir. I’m touched and mostly anxious.
Alethea Tusher has work published in Pulpmouth, SPF Lit Mag, The Gravity of the Thing, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Minneapolis with her friendfamily.