DEGENERATE ART ENSEMBLE

I wrote the poem “Vernix” in response to Degenerate Art Ensemble’s (DAE) work-in-progress Anima Mundi, which they developed in part while in residence at Baryshnikov Arts Center. I’d observed the idea of reincarnation and intergenerational memory as a concern in DAE’s earlier work, including most recently their performance Skeleton Flower. With Anima Mundi, I felt the centering of somatic memories around the birth experience coming forward in this performance.

As a writer who is also a mother to a young child, I connect to the somatic traces and embodied experience of both being born and giving birth. Watching Crow Nishimura’s character move and evolve through phases of consciousness opened in me the unfolding experience of human development. That process is one of coming into wakefulness, as well as awakening to the isolation and longing that comes through the awareness of the human condition.

Yet this work also speaks deeply to me of species loneliness. As humans, we can think or believe that we are separate of, or even superior to this world, when in reality, we are the same as animals when we locate and remember the place of wildness within ourselves.


VERNIX

when we are (re) born
there is profound loss,

of womb & wound
of forgetting, the journey

through birth canal
from warmth & darkness

into the harsh light
of where you first exist

outside the shape of mother

the body coated in a film
of afterbirth that seals

the skin shut with its protection
weighted with this covering

my body feels its own gravity
in straining to open

the eyes, unclench a clawed
fist, feeling the bones relax

into place after being 
squeezed for nine months

by amniotic fluid
consciousness emerging 

slowly, we learn first
to see, roll over, then pull

ourselves up to standing
the same as any other animal 

except we sense the outline 
cast, how the I  & shadow 

are inseparable and in meeting 
her, the voice locating 

the primal yowl of one
born to run with wolves


Shin Yu Pai is currently Civic Poet of the City of Seattle. She is the author of several books of poetry, including VirgaENSŌSightingsAux ArcsAdamantine, and Equivalence. She served as the fourth poet laureate of the city of Redmond from 2015 to 2017 and has been an artist in residence for the Seattle Art Museum and Pacific Science Center. She is a three-time fellow of MacDowell and has been in residence at Taipei Artist Village, The Ragdale Foundation, and The National Park Service. Her personal essays have appeared in Tricycle, Atlas Obscura, CityArts, and YES! Magazine.