So Open My Heart Hurts: A Review of Sarah Vap’s Viability
by Sarah Bates
Where there is no love, put abstract animals. Where there is no love, put lipstick. Put mascara. Put lipstick down the throat of a rat.*
Where there is no love, put information.
Every time I pick up Sarah Vap’s Viability it’s the gush of pink ribbon. The horoscope and the children inside. It’s the pounding of a circle into the side of a barn and waiting for the sun to strike it.
It’s like I’m someone else walking out of my life and into another.
Another time at my dining room table crying over infants and boats, someone else’s weather and a bear in a skirt. Another time falling asleep to a meditation on J.Lo and loss, Paris Hilton and critics of globalization. There isn’t language enough to process what Vap has exploded in this stunning collision of lyric and exploitation, absurdity and capitalism, slavery and time’s thickness. Just like that, Viability becomes one of the most urgent books of poetry.
From the start, Vap’s language is as dreamlike as it is jarring. With bodies filled with splintered logs, a mother carving out her own eye, the infant and the carriage— alone, we are immediately taken to an entire night of loss. Loneliness as performance. Strong fat legs. The shivering seed and the climbing vine. Every page asking its reader, another time, how to live differently after encountering the last. How to replace an embryo with a bikini.
Where there is inability, put worth dragging down one’s own weight. Where capital is misused and drawn away, put more inability.
Every sentence questioning a world without speculation. Human emotion that drives consumer confidence. The glass we’ve trapped the roach under.
Slavery’s failure is the fault of slavery’s inability—put much more fault, put membranes between the faults, and there you will find inability.
Every other sentence asking what we do with the body between four boats. Petrol prices. Foreign waters. The other glass that broke.
To let alone something that I might have touched.
Vap is relentless, addressing the evils of a world that looks away, a world that gorges on a multi-million dollar fish industry, a world that bought twice as much lipstick after the Twin Towers fell.
A world trying to measure a stillborn god and a growing, the wire wrapped around its torso and a love that begs you to be brave in the face of the killing and the giving at once.
After my fourth reading of Viability, I still don’t know how to tell you everything.
Vap’s work has me waking up at 2am thinking about everything I’ve ever lost, the value of security, how it may decline. It has me waking up to motherhood, blackened milk, and life in regards to profit.
Bodies of women in regards to profit.
The bear in the skirt in regards to profit.
The woman’s body as a list of hard facts.
It has me waking up to the glow of the planet, to bees in bikinis, the hands that deliver the infant. Bodies upon bodies then spring.
It has me measuring the way we talk to God.
Sentence after sentence creating an index of all the things one is afraid of someday losing. And isn’t this why we write? Why we keep picking it up? To process, to understand, to grapple and explode. To be the child waiting in the horoscope. To keep waking up when our heart is so open it hurts.
Isn’t that why we live?
Vap’s work is a brutal meditation on love, on increase, the “cash cow,” asking, what do you secretly believe in? What do you secretly want?
How do we keep believing, keep wanting as the infant grows, as love’s holler collapses and silently screams into our mouths? When the heir to memory is a love that might hurt us?
Where there is no love, put continuation or put increase or put proliferation—and there you will find the love untenable. Language is not infinity. Language is not hopeful. There is no rapture in language. Language is always doing. Language is never undoing. I admit that I had hoped to “love”and “be loved.”
Vap has created language which questions itself. Language which begs us to consider how we measure the losing, how we value the human life in regards to economy and time, how we let alone something that we might have touched.
The infant’s breath moves with my father’s breathing machine.
Today’s slave can be bought for a few hundred dollars.
As the infant grows it will be crushed.
This haunting collection manifests the gaps. It’s lyric carving out canyons in the midst of silence. Silences collapsed in the middle of relentless speech. Sentences that enter through wormholes in order to be let into the darkest places.
We learn about the fluctuation of cotton, one plate of rice a day, and enslaved fishermen murdered at sea.
Page after page, line after line, we become enamored with the returning to, corporate takeover strategies, chemical elements and summer as adolescence. Spring as infancy.
We wake up to the power of loss. Fill our coffee mugs to the power of the fear of loss. How it grows.
We watch it creep into our dreams, feel it swell through bodies we are bound to.
We search for the final color, we hope for something permanent.
We wait for the coffee to brew.
We laugh when someone makes us that happy.
Now I can whisper something to you and it didn’t hurt.
[* Note from the editors: All italicized text is from Sarah Vap's Viability.]
Sarah Bates is a creative writing MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Washington Square Review, BOAAT, First Class Lit, Pacifica Literary Review, and The Normal School, among others. She lives in Marquette with her goldendoodle, River.