Part poetry, part prose, Shira Dentz’s latest collection breaks apart expectations of form and language, resisting category at every turn. On the surface, door of thin skins revolves around one woman’s relationship with her psychotherapist, Dr. Abe. But such a summary is reductive for this collection with its hybrid form, fractured narrative, and deep insight into the nature of co-dependence. Instead, this collection might be said to be a collage of double-vision, both on a literal, visual level, and through the use of repeated language. door of thin skins seems to suggest that perhaps by shuffling the same words around, by telling the same story again and again, a truth–if not the truth–might emerge.
Repetition is a defining characteristic of this collection, one of the features that the reader can depend on in the midst of fracture and fragment. The collection begins by establishing this pattern and teaching the reader how to make sense of it:
door of thin skins. A woman’s torso with flowing
breasts, blue and tarnished. the slight and gold.
A woman’s torso with flowing breasts,
blue and crannies of a tree; on their hole.
(“Dr. Abe’s Psychotherapy”)
In this small stanza, the phrase “a woman’s torso with flowing breasts” is repeated twice, the word “blue” is also repeated twice, and the title of the collection functions as the first line. The names of the characters are also repeated frequently throughout the collection, and remain one of the constants that help ground the reader. Dr Abe, the speaker, the speaker’s friend Kim, as well as a handful of Prosecutors known simply by their first initials people these poems, helping link the poems together as part of the same story.
Similarly, many of the poems function as companion pieces. That is, they tell the same story, using the same words in different orders or from different vantage points. Like telling the same story again and again as years go by and hindsight sets in; as we change, so the story. “Hugs,” for example, gets retold two pages later in the poem “Group.” The two poems share the same opening couplet (“Dr. Abe always wears a suit. Using his belly as a float, he teaches me how to / feel safe connected and hug back. Not, he says, like a latke”), but move in two different directions after that, as though the speaker is concerned one day with one detail, the next with another. “At the Met” and “15.” work in the same way. The pocketbooks in the basement described in “At the Met” are picked up again pages later in “15.” Dentz uses a question asked by Dr. Abe in the first poem (“Want any?”), as the occasion for “15.” It begins in media res, picking up the thread of conversation from “At the Met” (“Afraid to say no thank you to the pocketbooks, but I do”).
Yet another repetition occurs with the word and image of ‘hole’ (see excerpt above from “Dr. Abe’s Psychotherapy”). Perhaps a play on the word ‘whole,’ the holes of door of thin skins function as perhaps erotic, as a hint at gender distinctions; perhaps to signify emptiness, or the hidden: what occurs under the surface. It’s difficult to say, but that doesn’t dismiss the power of this particular repetition that again unifies the collection and alludes to the psychology of the speaker. We cannot know what exactly the meaning of these holes are, and perhaps that is the point. They are as elusive as the mind itself: “the hole because ever their way down / that he did it when he covered even at rest opening cherry blossom petals” (19).
door of thin skins moves as as an entity from the very prosaic to the very lyrical. It also moves between traditional prose and verse to poems entrenched almost entirely in the visual. It is as much a visual story as one made of words. The visual rhetoric of the collection records the constant struggle of the narrative: to literally deal with the speaker’s double-vision, and, in the realm of the subconscious, to make composites of memories. The most stunning moments of this collection occur because of Dentz’s ability to use language to move fluently between image and story; “the gray airy-a / of boundaries between patient and therapist” (7), between man and woman, self and other, patient and doctor, and memory and fact are explored here, and the lines blur so easily that the reader of door of thin skins must be alert, awake to the possibly that this collection is as much the speaker’s as it is the readers. After all, “what do you call your father?” (34).