Viva Loss recently received a rave review at the online journal Cherry Bleeds. Wisby's "tiny word boxes, tiny coffins" made critic MK Chavez "swoon," knocking her down -- via an asphyxiating throat hold --, then dusted her off and set her upright, ready to "start all over again."
Sarah recently began teaching a creative writing class out of her apartment, which is going well.
Last July, she read the following piece at the Bang Out Reading Series:
“The Orgasm Museum” by Sarah Fran Wisby
The museum itself is solid enough, built of brick and steel, a former textile mill crouched next to a stream. In the days when cloth was dyed there, the stream ran indigo, or viridian, or blood red, depending on the day’s colorbath. Mostly women worked at the mill, in long mud-colored aprons, and hats like folded paper boats. In those cramped little industrial New England towns everyone was always waiting for something-romance, payday, childbirth, summer-but in the meantime they worked hard, and occasionally perished in fires.
You will want to know what color the stream was on the day of the fire. That detail unfortunately was not recorded. You might want to picture the whole scene in grainy black and white: the flames shooting white from the windows, gray bodies jumping from the flames into the black foliage, the black stream.
Anyway, the reason I tell you all this is because history is invisible-without some plaque on the wall or voiced-over mini-series, you wouldn’t even know it was there, covering itself in layer after layer, like a debt that grows and grows whether you touch it or not.
The curators of the orgasm museum were not unaware of these concerns when they stumbled across the property at the public auction house. Since the mill fire, the building had been an orphanage, a school, and chocolate factory, each incarnation an attempt to bury the last, with children, with geometry lessons, with candy. And now this attempt to elevate the intangible, to display the unseen. It was the late sixties and orgasms were everywhere. The curators went out with silk nets, and chloroform, and spray fixative, and captured and captured and captured.
Once inside the museum, what strikes you first is the discrepancy in the size of the specimens. Some sprawl across whole walls or hang from the ceiling like macrame forests. Some seem to be eating away at the walls like an acid. Others are displayed perched on the head of a pin with a magnifying glass on a string nearby-these smaller specimens tend to be densely packed and symmetrical like cut jewels. Probably chosen for that reason. I mean, you don’t want to peer through a microscope at something too abstract.
The passage of time has been less than kind. Many are delicately falling apart, like lace antimacassars. Who would’ve thought an orgasm could start to look fussy? They can’t be cleaned, either by feather dusters or by sharp bursts of compressed air, so mostly what you see when you look at them are the molecules of dust that have attached to them over the years. Still, in the tattered shapes that inhabit the chambers and corridors of the museum, something remains of their former radiance.
This one’s like a leaf, pulsed around a single vein.
This one is a painting of tigers, on black velvet, the tigers long gone.
This one kept coming, like clowns from a Volkswagen. Then, like knotted kerchiefs, pulled from a painted mouth.
This is the kind of place you come to alone. Couples break up here. “I’ve never had anything like that!” she says, and a seed gets planted. Anyone who walks in can’t help remembering their best orgasm. These memories rarely include husbands or wives, boyfriends or girlfriends, not current ones anyway.
This one has no center, but appears rhizomatic, like ginger root, or like the masses rising in revolution.
This one is a painting of a woman. She looks a bit like your mother. Oh my god, you realize, my mother has orgasms.
This one is a movie, an endless loop. It follows a jangling path. No characters. It’s what you see when you close your eyes. It’s who you are when you are nothing.
There are no placards next to the orgasms. Rather, there are numbers. And if you wish, you can go to the card catalogue and look them up. Each card simply lists a name, date, and place of origin. James, 1967, Brownsville, TX. Annika, 1970, Roanoke, VA. Jorge, 1969, Vacaville, CA. A map lights up in your mind. A whole other country taking shape.
You were spinning, and they took you down. You were vague, imprecise, groaning with blue. They pressed you under their thumbs, and stopped you wandering.
You are the remnant, remembering the whole. Later you will shrink back into yourself. This part is important, if you want to get things done.
There is one room you don’t want to go into, adjoining the main gallery. Small jars line many tiers of shelves. There are no numbers here to cross-reference. These are the orgasms that never were. The ladies that leaped with no hope of landing. There is a gate that swings open, swings shut. These are the birds that misjudged the distance. They flew through the gate at the wrong moment, and were crushed.