Reviewed by Kristen Orser
Heidi Lynn Staples's Take Care Fake Bear Torque Cake makes me feel uncozy. It makes me want to run to Noam Chomsky or Bertrand Russell and ask, "Is this what you were talking about?" Like them, Staples drums up language situations: "I should be able to eat whatever I take care fake bear torque / cake." In these situations, there is expression but not―necessarily―clarity. Is Staples creating a code? Is this a game of Mad Libs? Is this about the limits of language, the way we should be able to say whatever we take care fake bear torque cake? "It's hard. There are no easy take care fake bear torque cakes."
It is easy to feel unable; easy to see take care fake bear torque cake as an utterance that disguises thought, makes thought unbirthed: "To make the take care fake bear torque cake stop, the doctor per- / formed a D&C―he take care fake bear torque caked her out with / a long sharp take care fake bear torque cake. She couldn't ever have / children again."
There's too much touching for this kind of despair. Staples manages to say much because the words relate to one another and the book relies on the human instinct to relate. She's looking at how words hold each other, how her memories flirt with her readers' memories, and how her childish drawings act alongside all this intimacy.
Eat that, Plato―Staples is not practicing mimesis, she's investigating interconnectedness.
It's not a simple dissection to critique language. Staples isn't working out a doctrine of pre- or post- L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, even of materiality or symbolism. Instead, Staples is showcasing how the poet trumps prefixes, compounds, and the glitter of language to create a space for thinking. In this case, thinking about memory and the way we tell memory: "They built a take care fake bear torque cake. They designed the take care fake bear torque cake themselves bade on houses my dad / had seen as a fighter take care fake bear torque cake."
It's memory from memories.
It's thinking from thinking.
It's the way the writer collects all the things that touch and puts them on a page that's barely able to contain them all. There's too much context, too many ideas that can't get pinned down, that are on the edge of the page. This is a collection of what memories can be articulated.
When readers come into the book, we bring more. We communally interpret take care fake bear torque cake and re-write, re-remember. Our memories siege the page. If Hart Crane was right and "the form of [the] poem rises out of the past," Staples's work asks, "Which past?" The "I" is prevalent. This is a memoir. This is a narrative attempt. While we all might remember a "Ziggy take care fake bear / torque cakepack," Staples reminds us that it's her memory, that it's her in the experience, by landscaping an entire page to the line, "And jumped down out of the truck." The starkness, the I in the action, reminds us that it's her story to tell in her own pacing. It's her space being carved out as a memory.
Her agency is furthered by illustrations. The illustrations, like the page's landscape, have light and shadow in particular places, straight lines and curved lines where Staples chooses, and seem to represent the frenzy of remembering a feeling instead of a fact. Her drawings gussy up and re-represent a memory of growing up and becoming, through language, a cultural creature. So when we see Staples's drawing of a family car driving past McDonald's golden arches and we read a little girl wanting to stop, we know that experience is distinctly American, distinctly rooted in a specific culture. We know that her agency (like her language) is circumscribed by culture.
Staples deals with stuff too big for a review: the homogeny of the American experience, the way childhood and possibly poetry are too often made precious, and the limits of language. But I'm mostly smitten by how Take Care Fake Bear Torque Cake acts as a memoir about Staples becoming able to retell. I'm drawn to how, even telling painful and difficult memories, it is "ordinary." Staples is telling the most ordinary stories and she is suggesting that ordinary and extraordinary might not be distinguishable. The ordinary is revealing: If we pull at the memoir, we see the difficult task of moving toward creation:
I wasn't conceived in take care fake bear torque cake […] Nevertheless, I came into the take care fake bear torque cake take / care fake bear torque caking […] I started to take care care fake bear / torque cake. I couldn't stop. […] I needed a piece of take care fake bear torque cake. // I needed to practice.
There is practice, labor, and the experience of trying to shape memory or pin it down when it resists words, linearity, won't even stay put in the past: "I still / have / recurrent take care fake bear / torque cakes in which the horizon is / filled with take care fake bear torque cakes."
We could keep pulling at the memoir and see the writer writing about writing, practicing the memory of memoir writing, defining the authority of the individual to "[match] the rhythm of [her] bouncing" song. It's worth it. It's worth this mental jump rope to see how the song (which you can call poetic thought, lyric possibility, language, memory, or take care fake bear torque cake) changes, seeks and fails, and is then nurtured by Staples: "When she eats her tomato, she says, the take / care fake bear torque cake is becoming a little girl! / Yes, I say, see how the take care / fake bear torque / cake becomes / take care / fake bear / torque / cakes!"
Staples wrestles with memories, sugar cravings, and the shriek of an American childhood where Dad drinks Schlitz, Mom catches Dad "wearing someone else's take care fake bear torque cake shorts," and everyone enjoys fresh strawberries. All of this happens to the theme of a Kraft cheese commercial. Culture carries language, carries ideas, and Staples knows you can shake that up with derivations and play: cakeness, Cakenum, caking, caked, cakemen, and more because there is a "sense of take care fake bear torque cake [in] the air, be / cause who [knows] what we might find?"
Shaking it up like this teases out a memoir that is cute and gruesome. There are adorable moments where the narrator has open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches, rides a bike and feels "unstake care fake bear torque cakeable," and disturbing moments where the memory cuts easy nostalgia: "I remember the first time I cut myself and saw my own take care fake bear torque cake."
A straight memoir would mean that there was clear memory, clear self understanding, and some stability. Staples isn't falling for that kind of limitation. Instead, she gives us something more real: she works to feel and understand memories for how they challenge the limits of language. She works to illustrate the mess with sketches that are equally charming and disgusting. The words and the sketches cast out toward memory, toward clarity and come back with a sound:
I didn't take care fake bear torque cake. I just held take care fake
bear torque cake on my tongue. The take care fake bear torque
cakeness spread throughout my take care fake bear torque cake,
and take care fake bear torque cake was good.