THE SMALLEST WOMAN by Daniel Borzutzky


after Clarice Lispector

They took the lips of the smallest woman in the world and stretched them so they hung over her mouth which was the size of a baby's fingernail. They pulled on her lips and put things inside of her mouth: mud, pebbles, bones, enamel, dried beans, carrots and mushrooms. But they knew that if she swallowed, her belly would explode. I sat in my cage on the inside edge of the frame watching what they did to the smallest woman and wishing they might crush her like a bug to prevent her body from exploding. Which was when I took your absent hand and held it to my belly. I listened for your voice but when it came it did not say what I wanted it to say. Love is like this. Instead it spoke of the carcass you had become and of the ground in which you were buried and of the mud they made you eat as they plunged you into the earth to sleep. You were sleeping now, it told me. You were sleeping on the bank of the Chicago River and from your bed in the mud you could hear the arms of the immigrants being slashed in dozens of different languages. I squatted in the corner of my cage and tried to position my body so I would not have to watch them shave the hair off the skull of the smallest woman in the world. Violence can be so delicate, I heard a scientist say, but his colleagues pretended as if he were talking about something else and they kept on working. And your voice was growling in my belly. And I heard a moan come out of my mouth and then another moan and then a moan inside of another moan and soon I was gurgling and a man in a white coat who had never before touched my body approached my cage and struck me with an electroshock weapon and as my muscles began to contract the moans I carried within me, your moans, dissolved into silence. I wiggled for a while and what I wanted to tell them was to torture my body and not the body of the smallest woman, but they could not hear me for my tongue would not move when my brain requested it to speak. My love, I am sorry. I did not think of you at this moment for all I could think of was my body. You were drowning in the mud, boiling in a stew of caterpillars and potato bugs and cicadas and ugly languages and I know now that you were hissing to me as my body convulsed in this story that I did not want to be about me, this story that I wanted to be about the smallest woman in the world and what they did to her inside of the frame, but of course every story I tell is always and inevitably about me. My love, they told me later that they loved her. They told me later that they loved her so much that all they could do for weeks and months was look at her. A frame is like this. It makes you want to say, This is me and this is not me, This is my life and this is not my life, This is my body and this is not my body. And of course the smallest woman in the world never exploded. They filled her mouth only until the breaking point and then they unsewed her lips and asked her to spit. They poked her belly with minuscule blades and they withdrew them at the moment she was on the verge of collapse. It is like this inside of a frame. There is the limit and there is the moment before the limit is reached. There are the smallest lips and smallest ears and smallest toes and fingers and they can be stretched and stretched but there is always the moment before the rupture. This was what they wanted to reach. The moment before the scalp is no longer a scalp, the heart is no longer a heart, the frame is no longer a frame.


Daniel Borzutzky is the author of The Book of Interfering Bodies (Nightboat, 2011); The Ecstasy of Capitulation (BlazeVox, 2007) and Arbitrary Tales (Triple Press, 2005). His translations include Raúl Zurita's Song for his Disappeared Love (Action Books, 2010) and Jaime Luis Huenún's Port Trakl (Action Books, 2010), among others. His work has been anthologized in, among others, A Best of Fence: The First Nine Years (Fence Books); Seriously Funny (University of Georgia Press, 2010); and Malditos Latinos Malditos Sudacas: Poesia Iberoamericana Made in USA (El billar de Lucrecia, 2010). Journal publications include Fence, Denver Quarterly, Conjunctions, Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, and many others. Chapbooks include Failure in the Imagination (Bronze Skull, 2007) and One Size Fits All (Scantily Class Press, 2009). He lives in Chicago.

Art: Girl with Rainbow by Maria Kondratiev.

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