Eyelid Lick by Donald Dunbar

Reviewed By

Eyelid Lick opens with an author’s note. “The title of this book was Trust School,” Dunbar writes. “It was supposed to be a textbook for a fictional ‘trust school’—trust falls, careless cellphone trading, students making love in a brightly lit, all-school assembly—framed by an extremely allegorical story.” Writing classes have long taught that the author/reader relationship is one of trust. Writing classes are, for the most part, taught in schools. Why is the author telling us, his readers, about what the book we’re holding was supposed to be?

Later, in the same author’s note, Dunbar writes, “Really, there’s too much unsaid in this book, or half-said, or said too many times, way too much. The full extent becomes apparent when you attempt to read an earlier page and the entire text deforms, as if tied to the slowly turning wheels of a large clock.” That’s really better than anything I could say. I mean, it wasn’t until I got to the first (of two) table of contents pages before I realized that nothing in Eyelid Lick is what it seems. The author’s note isn’t an author’s note—it’s a poem. The table of contents isn’t a table of contents—it’s a poem. Eyelid Lick isn’t a collection of poetry that was once titled Trust School—it’s a book-length poem joyously defiling any pre-conceived notions of poetry collections.

As Dunbar writes: “You refer to every single thing by its correct name, but mean something different. It’s the way a cellphone is a cellphone even when thrown into the air, into smog, across the grass of ice in clouds, in stratosphere and space, in the act of being reeled slowly into the sun’s field, readying itself to be crushed by gravity and burned into light.”

“I am so not fucking around,” Dunbar says, because you know he is so totally fucking around.

But Eyelid Lick is better than that. It’s so much better than that and it just keeps getting better. The line breaks are never where they “should be.” The poem titles sometimes appear in the middle of the page. The poems take odd turns and get messy and sometimes fall flat but that’s okay because it’s all part of what makes Eyelid Lick Eyelid Lick. At one point, Dunbar opens a stanza with “Mother Russia…” and proceeds to channel the absurd brutality of that country’s great poetry: “Perhaps I have always been obsolete, and patient, waiting/with excitement in a crowd for an execution. Perhaps they/even roll a man onto the stage./Naked except for modesty. Face obscured by a bag.”

The book, at points, seems to follow the perverse logic of dreams, warping in and out of focus, overlapping weird images and pulses of light. Within the space of a page, the tone might radically shift, becoming somber and reflective, almost off-putting in its stark intimacy:

And as we kiss, her lips are pulled into mine, and her tongue from between her
lips, and from her tongue her heart is pulled into my mouth like a thick, knotty

Now, the pumping of the heart is inside my body, but it’s not specifically for me.

And my saliva begins to digest it, the heart continues to pump / but like the
heart of a forest full of crickets…

Eyelid Lick is published by Fence Books (more specifically, it’s 2012 installment of the venerable Fence Modern Poets Series), and while reading it, I often found myself thinking of yet another Fence poet, Ariana Reines. In a piece called “Sucking,” published by Action Yes, Reines wrote: “…I am often a voluptuary, a vat of mushy ideas and disgusting feelings, and I have resented the cleanliness and elegance of tight and perfect writing. I have felt that writing should be dirtier and more excessive.”

“Writing can be more than good,” Reines has said. And that is exactly what Dunbar’s Eyelid Lick achieves. It is a book that is more than good. In these pages you will find a poet totally at ease in his skin, totally not fucking around. You will find moments of spontaneous language and insight and beauty that are all the more amazing because they don’t feel like manufactured spontaneity. You will find language charged with sex and ugliness—“in those moments that feel inexact”—and all the hilarity that makes being a human such a gross and glorious endeavor. You will find letters to God and “hundreds of thousands of small confetti explosions.”

God, those slowly turning wheels. Really, there’s too much unsaid in this review, or half-said, or said too many times. But I trust that you understand what I need to say, because I am so not fucking around.

From “No, No, No”:

My form seemed to fill itself out
And I was happy
I ate well for three months, and then three months more
And then I woke up, I kept waking up
And it never stopped
I will trade you five hundred brain cells
And then I will use them to control you

David Peak's most recent book is The River Through the Trees. His blog is davidpeak.blogspot.com. He lives in Chicago. More from this author →