The Impossible Lesbian Love Object(s)

Brenda Shaughnessy

—after Meret Oppenheim’s Object

1.It's just an object, it's not me.I'm more than an object, we are not having tea.I am not one, not two. I am a feminist three.I am Dada—not Mama, never will be.When no one can use me, I am most free.2.I am not like other objects unawareof themselves, those props subbing for desire:the corner of the room thinks the room is one-cornered,that cat sculpture staring as if with its eyes.I, too, am a mammal stolen from my original sense of thirst.Women know this disappearance from meaning.Like all lesbian triptychs, I've stumbled.Like all love objects, I am triangular, unstable.I'm a lonely trio, a single setting, vexedand passive, sexed and distracted.A hot drink, a pot on the fire, the musclesloosened, an inner stirring, a little spill,the coat on the floor. The fur coat on the floor.The curved fur floor atop another fur circleto never catch a drop and a concave facewith convex back, swirling nothing.None of it really happening.I was once and always only ever an idea,just a clever blip, a quip, a dare,converted by coin and concept,given body, shape, hair,and an immortal uselessnessall art thinks it's born with,that women can't get near.3.I'm beloved for being art's best worst idea.Famous for being impossible,that's why I'm obscene.Not because everybody wants to fuck the cup,not even the spoon can get it up.Full frontal frottage, sapphic saucer,a curving inside-outness, hairy leather hole.Liquid's skill is soaking, then getting sucked.Seed's luck is spilling, then being tilled.It turns out we are having tea,but it's all so heavy with life-cyclesthat even when you go light, with art,to get a little air, the room's still a bit dark.And I'm repulsed, which attracts, in factthe promise of warm fur is ancient,will outlast the ritual fire and waterof tea for three, not two.You see there's me, and you, and we.Pelts melt into a new body, not old.We're not thirsty—we're not cold.4.I'm not just an object,my surfaces servicing,but I'm no more than myself.I end at my edges, finish my points,even if I bend your senses,when I am this soft.The spoon is small,the cup, generous,the saucer extra absorbent—past story, beyond end,like a certain kindof woman I have been with,and been.

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Janea Wiedmann

Brenda Shaughnessy is the author of six poetry collections, including Tanya (March 2023, Knopf); The Octopus Museum (2019, Knopf); So Much Synth (2016, Copper Canyon Press); Our Andromeda (2012), which was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award, The International Griffin Prize, and the PEN Open Book Award. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Harpers, The New York Times, The New Yorker, O Magazine, Paris Review, Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere. Recent collaborative projects include writing a libretto for a Mass commissioned by Trinity Church Wall Street for composer Paola Prestini, and a poem-essay for the exhibition catalog for Toba Khedoori’s solo retrospective show at LACMA. A 2013 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, she is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Rutgers University-Newark. She lives in West Orange, New Jersey with her family.

Cover of Tanya

New York, New York

“Juicy models of lyrical reasoning, [Shaughnessy’s poems] bring together wordplay and rhetoric . . . The poems have a fertile restlessness. They don’t settle into epiphanies but continue layering, swerving, branching, reconsidering . . . Her vibrant dives into the possibilities of [the self] invest it with multitudes . . . In the Shaughnessy multiverse, everything contains everything else, or has that capacity . . . Femaleness and iterations of feminism provide a framework for Tanya. The collection can be seen in part as a version of midlife stock-taking, via odes to women artists, mentors, lovers, frenemies and former selves . . . Shaughnessy [traces] her own derivation and education through myriad mothers, stretching definitions of 'mother' to include frictions, crushes, heartbreaks and inspirations that became part of her DNA . . . Chief among the new book’s many subjects are love, absence and loss: how to live with or without them . . . [Shaughnessy] writes about love as being 'timelessness itself'. This is a book in which the poet’s ability 'to imagine and to wonder/fiercely' never flags.”
—Amy Gerstler, New York Times

“A probing, richly rendered collection of poems . . . a reflection on women artists as friends, mentors, and influencers…Shaughnessy relentlessly sifts and shifts through our image making, seeking clarity while recognizing that life is ‘not a straight story or a jagged line.’ Meanwhile, she celebrates the eponymous Tanya, wanting to ‘repair the path between us.’ A remarkable book achieving all its ambitions.”
Library Journal

"Shaughnessy’s poignant latest (after The Octopus Museum) honors the women artists who have inspired her own creative journey while delving deeply into memories of formative relationships . . . This generous and moving volume is a dazzling celebration of the mentors who spark creative life."
Publishers Weekly

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