Skin I'm In: Ariana Nadia Nash's Instructions for Preparing Your Skin

Cassie Duggan

Instructions for Preparing Your Skin CoverIn her first book, Instructions for Preparing Your Skin (Anhinga Press), Ariana Nadia Nash produces a sensitive body of work completely comfortable in its own skin. These poems are overwhelming, dripping with courageous passion and an astute awareness of what it means to be human. Nash is a poet that intentionally wears her heart on her sleeve, and to our benefit shares the intensity of her experiences. Instructions for Preparing Your Skin was selected as the 2011 Philip Levine Prize winner by Denise Duhamel. The book is divided into five parts, each having to do with the visceral experience of living within our own flesh. The poems in this collection are immensely personal, yet not one line is dishonest to the reader, so long as that reader has loved, lost, and lived.

Nash poignantly embodies the voices of others in this collection. Still, her own voice shines through a number of alternate personas. In a series of three poems, each a different numbered draft of a letter, she inhabits the voice of Delilah, relating her complicated relationship with Samson. She does so with a deep sadness, but one would probably not expect a hint of humor in her voice. In “Draft 6” she writes, “If so, my handsome Jew, / then by all means keep wandering— / I’ve always liked you with short hair” (43). The tone is acutely personal with a wink, and this is the kind of surprise that keeps Nash’s work on its toes. Delilah continues to be a voice of inspiration as the collection ends with the poem “Delilah’s Song,” a poem in tercets that ends with an enigmatic couplet. The ending is as follows:


Samson, it is good to talk to you, even this faint shadow of you,
because ground never forgets where bodies are buried.
I have asked God, Samson, if I misheard him that night

and he has answered, softly, but certainly,
song against skin, and again song, and yes, even now, sing. (67)

By the end of the book Nash appears to have completely embodied Delilah in the poetic sense, so that now the lines between the two are completely blurred when she says “I can’t always say what I mean anymore” (66).

And when Nash isn’t channeling biblical heroines, she is writing about herself and her own memories; recollection illuminated beautifully on the page. These poems are worldly. Nash visits Japan, San Francisco, Thailand, and Germany (just to list a few of the geographical pins in this book), yet as her voice travels around the world, the poems always return to the body. Arguably, the most well-traveled poem in this collection is “Autonomy” where Nash questions her place as she travels the globe, but despite the speed at which we move from country to country she is still able to anchor the reader with lines such as: “I am still searching for the place that pounds my heart like a drum.” and “I am unpressed to the world” (39). In these short, direct sentences she conveys emotions we can all relate to, no matter where we are in the world. That is a true gift, to connect with your reader in a poem that is moving quickly from place to place.

The title poem, “Instructions for Preparing Your Skin,” sprawls across the page in long lines, eloquently carrying the sexual journey of the narrator. She begins matter-of-factly, “First, as a teenager, touch yourself late at night, wondering if there is something wrong with the small, furry feeling inside you” (52). And the lines continue to illustrate the erotic explorations of a young woman, including embarrassment, regret, and the joys of love. Nash writes:


Fall in love. Fall so you are willing to peel back your skin and leave yourself achingly bare. And, as you spill out of yourself, be entered for the first time, clinging to his uncalloused skin as if it could make you whole. (53)

This is a poem about building a tough skin, but also about knowing when to let your defenses down for another and, most importantly, for yourself.

Readers and writers alike should praise Ariana Nadia Nash because she is a woman unafraid to explore herself through poetry. But it does not end there, in addition to her confidence in writing about the unknown, her verse is beautiful and exposes the precise amount of skin in order to feel sensitive and personal, yet still evokes the imagination often enough to display universality. These poems require no instruction to read. They are effortless examinations of the human body with all its flaws and beauties. You will feel these poems in your skin. I guarantee it.


Instructions for Preparing Your Skin
Ariana Nadia Nash
Anhinga Press, 2013
ISBN 978-1-934695-30-2

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