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Charlyne Yi Explores What It Means To Be Vulnerable in “You Can’t Kill Me Twice”

little infinite modern poetry books
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Many of you might know Charlyne Yi from the movie Paper Heart (which she co-wrote and co-starred in with Michael Cera), her time on House, or from her voice in animated works. Her background is artistic, beautiful, and varied. She’s made music, she’s worked with OxFam, and she’s performed with The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

And she’s also a poet, with her book, You Can’t Kill Me Twice (so please treat me right). One book review summed it up pretty nicely:

“I have always been drawn to Charlyne Yi’s wit, music, and personality so I knew I would enjoy this book. However, I did not expect to feel so connected with it. I smiled, giggled, felt uncomfortable, and shed tears. I read it in less than an hour and then read it again. I found myself wanting more, but also greedy because she wrote with such vulnerability. Charlyne Yi, thank you for bringing this book into the world.”

Content & Themes

This is a book of vulnerability. It’s right there in the title, an emotional plea: “Please treat me right.” At face-value, that might seem weak or even fragile, but the book itself is not an ask, it’s a demand. A demand to be seen. The book’s opening poem states, “Sometimes, tenderness is sexy.”

It’s clear that the reader is about to embark on a literary journey marked by an acceptance — and worship — of all things tender, open, sensitive, authentic, and human. It also offers ideas on kindness, race, culture.

There are no titles, which is a nice change from the norm; each poem in the book instead makes up a small part of the whole story, an approach that feels cohesive, not broken. There are also very many minimalist but evocative storytelling illustrations (and also a set of Tarot card-like images that are so worth the list price on their own!). They feel soft, open, emotional.

In the below poem, you get everything the book offers — vulnerability as power, and the fact that a person, a woman, can multitudinous: angry, powerful, soft, hard.

I am a witch,
a vulnerable, vulgar woman,
made of exquisite light, tap-dancing mice
who wear top hats, and eat fire.

I prefer to use my magic for good,
but if you hurt me, I swear to God
I’ll turn you inside out
like a human pocket of flesh
that will never hold anything again.

The book also embrace a healthy dose of magic; it’s not card-trick or nor witchy magic, but the magic of being alive. In one her poems, she writes,

for breakfast: I ate two sunrises (over easy), two
scrambled universes, and two days’ worth of nostalgia
.

In another, there’s humor (of course:

I threw my goddamn emotional baggage
off the docks and into the ocean
and the goddamn sonuvabitch popped up floating!
Who on God’s green earth taught it to swim?

And then there’s this, which is both hilarious and sad:

I can’t read people;
I’m illiterate.

Voice & Tone

Yi’s writing is pleasantly straightforward, as the book is told like snippets. Like a diary, or a letter to a friend. Or maybe like small confessions you write on a scroll and keep in a jar or on an altar. The tone is informal and friendly, as though you received a text your very clever, insightful poet-friend:

My partner reads the newspaper
first because I always wet it
with my tears.

Just kidding,
I don’t have a partner
but I’m slowly building one out of
papier-mâché.

As Yi writes below, there is a sense of presentness in this collection. It feels as if she’s saying “this is me, right here, right now.” And in a sense, it gives us permission — to be exactly who we are. To worship our own wants, fears, hopes, pains.

We time travel emotionally
to our past, or anxiously forward
to the future. But if we are not here,
we are deteriorating,
as we cannot be
in two places at once.

Overall

Some poetry books are uplifting, aspirational, others are heart-wrenching (but necessarily). This isn’t exactly either (although it can be both). Rather, it’s a testimony to being alive — it’s powerful in its quietness, its exactness. It’s soft, real, and to the point.

It’s honest, refreshingly so. It’s a book to keep beside the bed. Open it at night. Open it in the morning when the light comes in. Open it when you need something real. Open it when your heart aches for truth.

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