An Alchemy of Fleeting Moments in Beast at Every Threshold by Natalie Wee

Beast at Every Threshold
Natalie Wee
Arsenal Pulp Press
2022, 104 pp., $17.95

Natalie Wee’s second poetry collection titled Beast at Every Threshold explores themes of belonging, womanhood, migration, and desire in an intimate and profound way. Imagery about the ocean, dusk, celestial bodies, and the beings that hide behind and inside them show Wee’s remarkable observations about the world around her, and within her, and inspire deep moments of reflection for the reader. Not only does the writing itself read as beautiful in word choice, rhythm, and its ability to conjure vivid imagery, but the lessons Wee is able to impart are just as creative.

Wee opens the collection with the poem, “In Defence of my Roommates Dog.” In reflecting on the subject of the poem illustrated in the title, Wee empathizes, “I don’t know if I’m real when I’m not being touched: the loneliest prayer / of any small god." The breadth of Wee’s ability to not only write, but provide profound meaning and insight into the things she writes about can be so beautifully seen in just this first poem. It is a clear and intentional choice of the author to open with a seemingly unsuspecting and lighthearted depiction of this event. Wee, knowing this implication, goes far beyond in her reflections of this small animal. The poem later continues, “Here are primal / & ungainly ways we tether ourselves to the earth. Here is this dog fucking something / she imagines loves her, tiny heart thundering towards some vast & unknowable / glory, in the name of not vanishing just a little longer.” The author does an important due diligence here that sets the tone for the rest of the collection: she affords her subject a degree of contemplation that we may not otherwise provide it—posing to the readers questions of the dog’s desires, hopes, and sacrifices. She shares with us lessons she has learned through the lens of this dog, and honours this subject’s teachings by centring it in the poem. There is no subject too mundane, too trivial: and the way in which she challenges us to see this truth through this first poem about this dog is one that we may hold on to and apply throughout the collection.

In the same fashion that Wee uses seemingly quotidian elements before imparting a poetic wisdom, the poem, “Inside Joke,” does so through reflections upon text messages that Wee has received. Wee writes, “my bb sends a pic of 2 otters + the word “us” // translated: we exist in every iteration of touch made possible.” We are able to appreciate the beautiful depth in a simple text message through Wee’s "translation." This act of "translating" appears to be a pattern in Wee’s work: that the seemingly mundane or simple details are given intensely heartfelt observations.

Of course, in addition to reflections about what happens around her, Wee also extends these reflections to herself. In “Can You Speak English?” Wee shares, “We were shored clean of fathers / throated harsh american accents / & muzzled breathing, only to be offered / a name half-pronounced. Haunting, // the border agent called me, instead of Huan Ting. / A single exhale dislocating phantom from girl." Moments that feel so sacred in their vulnerability just as traumatic and difficult experiences themselves, Wee not only shares, but delves further as she pairs it with a devastatingly moving rumination like this one. This border agent’s mispronunciation becomes a metaphor for her migration and ungrounded presence in this new territory.

While Wee shares about the difficult and tender self-reflections, we also see her extend this introspection for moments of soft joy as well. In the poem, “In My Next Life as a Fruit Tree,” Wee writes, “Who knows which sweet burden my tree will bear, / jambu ayer or starfruit or mandarin orange / but I’ll flower one crop each day for as long / as the palm reaching upwards needs something to adore it / & there is, for one moment, relief because I am / & am enough.” The gentleness that Wee affords others, but also herself, is an admirable quality indeed. In the way that reading the kindness that Wee offers herself warms the reader, it appears as though Wee also writes this as a lesson to us to learn from her example.

While Wee shares about the difficult and tender self-reflections, we also see her extend this introspection for moments of soft joy as well.

As a collection that speaks so lovingly about lineage and ancestry, Wee does not speak about herself without also speaking about those around her and how they are so deeply intertwined. In the opening lines of the poem, “An Abridged History,” Wee writes, “Every sentence I start about a man who hurts me ends / with the sentence about the men who hurt my grandmother.” This line captures the intergenerational impact of harm, but also of resilience amidst harm. We see how deeply Wee cares by how the pain of—and on behalf of—one does not exist in a silo but rather, is powerfully interconnected.

This interconnectedness offers additional layers to how Wee positions herself. In “Frequent Flyer Program,” Wee writes, “The hospital says I was conceived // as vanishing act, made by being cut out of a woman, / & just like that she was proof I once stayed // long enough to be born.”  Not only does Wee so beautifully write about an act as commonplace as a C-section, but through this event, Wee gives us a deep insight into herself. Wee positions those around her as mirrors, always reflecting to her some truth about herself. Through this, Wee is able to subvert the very circumstances of her origin story, her birth itself, to infer and impart on the reader. a reality about herself.

Not only do we see the interconnectedness through people in Wee’s writing, but also in conjunction with nature. Even as Wee writes about the moon, the ocean, the night, fruit, and other elements of the natural world around her, there is still a devout humanity that she offers it and its beings that only deepens her writing. In “Ten Years After Diagnosis,” Wee writes, “A river carves its grief / into soil / & we have a valley. // A moon pours itself / over creation myth / & we have a woman.” The fluidity that Wee offers us between human and nature shows how intimate of a relationship we hold with the world we live in, and maybe even offers to the reader how we may embrace this in our own lives.

Not only does Wee empathetically anthropomorphize nature in her writing, but she takes this one step and provides her non-human subject the arguably deeply human characteristic of inner turmoil. In “Birthright,” Wee writes, “hunger of a wave / cannibalizing itself / to reach shore / hunger // that folds inwards / because what else / will feed it.” To not only hold space for the feelings of a wave, but to make space for it, is such an insight into the heart of a poet and their capacity for love.

Wee’s Beast at Every Threshold is full of rich reflections and truly masterful writing. Wee illustrates that she is a part of this world as she is part of nature as she is part of her lineage. Wee alchemizes fleeting moments into words that will outlast her with such fervour that the reader cannot help but feel entranced. I am grateful to have read this collection, and look forward to future works of Wee’s.

Quotes that stay with you long after you flip the page:

“Yes, I was an animal / crafting fables in the language of my body’s flood. It’s amazing what a little death / earns you.” (“In Defence of My Roommates Dog,” Wee 11)

“did u know cats learned 2 meow by imitating the cry of a human child / each sound an imperfect, tender concession // we meow back: ouroboros // we meow back: Wiki says it’s mirroring: we echo what we love / 2 keep it.” (“Inside Joke,” Wee 16)

Do you love the night? // What else will save me?” (“Self-Portrait as Monster Dating Sim,” Wee 37)

“If the greatest measure of devotion is to hunger / without bite, let looking be a placeholder for a kinder want.” (“Asami Watches Korra in the Rear-View,” Wee 62)

“How wonderful it is not to remember having failed.” (“When My Grandmother Begins to Forget," Wee 87)

About the author

Namitha Rathinappillai (she/they) is a fat, queer, disabled, Tamil-Canadian published spoken word poet, organizer, and workshop facilitator. They are currently based in Toronto with their partner and two cats, Halloumi and Paneer.