The Taxidermist's Cut
Winner of the 2014 Four Way Books Intro In Poetry Prize
Finalist for the 2017 Lamda Literary Award in Gay Poetry
Reviews of The Taxidermist's Cut:
Praise for The Taxidermist's Cut:
"Rajiv Mohabir’s debut collection is electric with fierce love –-animal, erotic, obliterating—the hard and soft always bruising and buffing each other. The ways we hurt each other are similar to the ways we hurt ourselves: precisely, with a steadiness learned in the murk and danger of childhood. The cornfields of adolescence and the observation of animals teach us how to not only love each other and tear each other apart but also how to meticulously put what we love, what we destroy, back together again. Those actions may be metaphoric (“Wrens nest in any convenient home”) or seem hauntingly lived (as in the poem “Cutter”) but in the brilliant title poem the work of “the taxidermist” grips the reader’s imagination as a consummate symbol of the flawed human enterprise of connection. Here, the strangeness of anatomy reveals the twinning of our opposites within: the logic of fact is beautiful; plain facts belie endless enigma; scientific procedures cannot render irrelevant the matchless singularity of a body (particularly a loved or lived one.) Mohabir’s taxidermist takes on the great questions of what it is to be human: how is being human different than being animal, body, drive, psyche, the past, doomed, unique, and alone? With razor (what else?) precision, this poet lays bare not only the heart in its love, loss, and world of care, but in its utility, its chambers and the question of what blood is, contains, and cannot ever be. The poet is no taxidermist, as his subjects are live and are survivors. They live to love, to find each other, to look right back at us as we look at them, letting us know that we are not separate. We’re not separate from these cutters and the cut, the medicine or the wound, the metaphor or the memory. This new voice is primal, essential. It sings (as if it’s merely breathing) the song of how we came to be sitting here in ourselves, in our bodies as they are, among the ruins inside and out."
"In his excellent debut, Mohabir exposes desire and inner turmoil through the measured incantations of a queer, Indian-American voice that refuses the burdens of a homophobic and racist world. He eloquently describes how the brown body survives, clinging vigilantly to longing, lust, and love: "I mean to say/ I am still—this trembling breath of a comma, this coincidental object of your want." This finely detailed and chiseled work recalls the precision hinted at in the book's title: "Pick up the razor./ It sounds like erasure." In many ways these poems evoke a queer Larry Levis; narrative poems take strange and unexpected turns: "the man opposite you will blaze/ in your throat when his denim// and leather are a nest/ calling birds to their weaving." Sensual and rhythmic, Mohabir's observational gifts evoke the strange and intimate: "your nail beds are filled with fresh soil, hair ripped/ out by the roots, and semen." In between these twists and turns are masterful strokes of what W.E.B. DuBois would have described as the double consciousness of the minoritarian subject. Mohabir illuminates his own wounds, and as the reader watches him dresses and stitches those wounds, "A queer flutter knocks about your ribs."
—(Starred Review) Publishers Weekly
"...This is the sort of turn that speaks to how deft a poet Mohabir is, how skillfully he works the taut space between figure and figured, between tenor and vehicle. He is a technician of elaborate metaphor but deployed here not to mask or soften the complexities of power between lovers, between dominant and subaltern bodies and cultures."
—Janet McAdams in Kenyon Review
"In The Taxidermist’s Cut, Rajiv Mohabir’s lines, both sinister and lovely, function as cuts that reveal and divide, shimmering with the erotics of violence. Transfixed, one finds oneself unable to look away, arrested by the elegance of the language and the way, when held to the skin, it causes the body to shiver with pleasure. The line, the body, the text, the means by which bodies make and destroy themselves; “Pick up the razor. // It sounds like erasure.” Formally, the couplet features prominently throughout, raising the question of what’s joined, what’s split, what adheres together and what pulls apart."
-Mia Malhotra in Lantern Review Blog
"As with other poems in the collection, the lyric speaker is continually invoked in relation to his bird-like qualities—these “nimbus feathers”—but his social difference marks him as an oddity, something to be examined as spectacle perhaps rather than engaged as an object of beauty rather than a subject of desire. He is being plucked, then stuffed, then filled so as to be displayed, having been hunted perhaps and then transformed as a icon of successful predation: thus, the “fairytale” takes on a darker meaning here, as our lyric speaker finds himself remade into something perhaps both majestic and grotesque at the same time. The Taxidermist’s Cut is a collection that revels in making meaning out of poetic dissonances."
-Stephen Sohn in Asian American Literature Fans
"The deadpan delivery of “you ask me if I consider myself white” intensifies the relief this reader experiences when the poem glides toward wonder in the lines that follow. The almost magical realism inherent in the image of the star-dipped brush exemplifies Mohabir’s ability to balance depictions of wounds, wounding, and the wounded against the compensatory power of poetry—the ability of a poem to provide poet, speaker, and reader with access to worlds of greater possibility.
The poems in The Taxidermist’s Cut shimmer and shudder, and they deserve to be celebrated. Rajiv Mohabir is a brave poet. He’s armed with a razor and a map of the heart."
– Josh Davis, Poetry Witch
"Mohabir‘s collection stalks itself, assembling and reassembling bodies, tracking their installation, sometimes as-is, sometimes wished against or for, never static. The body/animal/being slips from its own skin, modifies it, wears it. It is a rogue taxidermy, a multimedia modification of parts, cross-referential, cross-fertilizing. It nests in, rubs up against the dominant narrative of its genus, and also makes its own history, lineage, and taxonomy—choosing, selecting...Mohabir’s The Taxidermist’s Cut is a collection of destruction and reconstruction, and we the readers are left among the moonlit ruins, with a strange ache of recognition."
-Kenji Liu in The Rumpus
“Winner of the Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry, Mohabir’s cri-de-coeur first collection parallels the hunted animal and the hunted human, capturing the fierce, angry hurt of the “chasm within” as the speaker shields his love of men, remaining an outsider (“Every time you speak they hear a different hell”) within a community that itself has outsider status (“At dusk, cry these spirits// into an old Hindi film”). The result is tough, fierce, hurtful, and erotic, less outwardly enraged than painfully self-referential. In the signature “Erasure,” the clinically described dismembering of a dead animal echoes the speaker’s own cut-up interior. “You spend your life eating darkness” he cries; “Take off your skin right here.” VERDICT Overall, the conception is effective and the language beautifully urgent without excess. For readers looking for the next leading poet."
"Mohabir’s debut is a wonder and a sorrow. He matches lyricism with deft narration, interweaving other texts with his own work exquisitely and harrowingly. A haunting collage, The Taxidermist’s Cut feels at once timely in its honest, vulnerable exposition of race and sexuality, and ancient, in its foundation in myth and the natural world. Mohabir is a deft taxidermist, selecting what to preserve and what to revise, thus limning the anxiety these seemingly contrary impulses create. He shows us how we are each cobbled together from borrowed and original parts, internal and external forces. From these motley notes, we each must fashion our own songs and “sing a human hymn / of imperfection,” and, hopefully, in the singing be made whole."
—Amie Whittemore in GRAVEL
" The sometimes grisly art of taxidermy, in which death is cleverly disguised as life, serves as a dominant metaphor for poems that explore everything from “Homosexual Interracial Dating in the South” to the poet’s “chutney / of Creole and Hindi” to creatures as disparate as the whale shark and the cicada."
-David Starkey in Santa Barbara Independent
"In one of the poems of this first collection, a speaker confesses: “I admit failure to a friend: I have never spelled love with another in the tangle of my own limbs.” Rajiv Mohabir, who traces his immediate ancestry to Guyana, writes with boundless appetite about the new New World of Indo-Caribbean identities. These poems do not claim fearlessness: they siphon audacious admissions and erotic offerings from the very maw of fear itself. Contending with anti-queer, anti-immigrant, anti-brown judgements, they explode into bhajans and bass rhymes of verse. The speakers in them are often restless, distanced from their natal beginnings and curious about their shifting postal addresses. It is this curiosity, this desire to claim names from the erasure and indemnity of East Indian indentureship in the West Indies, which gives this extraordinary debut its wings.
-Shivanee Ramlochan in Caribbean Beat
Taxidermy is the practice of taking a body, removing its essential parts and filling it was sawdust or scraps to make it appear whole again, alive almost. Rajiv Mohabir deconstructs this practice in his first book The Taxidermist’s Cut, using it as a lens to mesmerizing effect. Through the imagery of taxidermy, Mohabir grapples with family disapproval and hostility for his heritage, a culture obsessed with classification, his own self-destructive tendencies and the many layers of identity. Details of gruesome dissection are placed beside moments of affection and sexual awakening. Birds attain a mythical importance in this collection for the way they are objectified, caught and displayed, but also for the way they care for their young—abandoning them when touched by unfamiliar hands. “How will this child survive being cast out / or abandoned for what he cannot change?” Mohabir’s erasure poems shave and re-stitch a guide to taxidermy to demonstrate the violence of taking parts for the whole, asking readers to strip off their skin and step into another’s.