Review of Nikki Wallschlaeger's Crawlspace (Bloof Books, 2017)

Glitzy Subversion in Nikki Wallschlaeger’s Crawlspace 

by Rochelle Hurt


Crawlspace Shopping List (all italics represent quotes from Wallschlaeger’s book)

1. pie holes filled with magnificence
2. spiral ham (Everyone has a spiral ham fetish)
3. a rococo compass
4. the iconic ‘50s / inspired Coca-Cola kitchen set
5. rocking chair of rose water cyanide
6. PT cruisers that nobody drives
7. gewgaw bag of my money and marbles
8. Fresh Klonopin ribbons for my daughters
9. A protest sign hidden safely in Hattie’s famous / frown
10. a loaded / handgun (you can buy them in the intestine / department)
11. a silted crockpot of philosopher / dung
12. the antebellum purling / dog tags of myself
13. logos / of commercial femininity
14. My joy, privately owned (What is the difference between / a house and a mall really?)


Nikki Wallschaleger’s 2017 collection Crawlspace is full of knickknacks, trinkets, and gewgaws—the glittery disposable products of late capitalism that both perpetuate and distract from hegemonic violence. The list of quotes I've compiled above reflects some the ways that consumer culture shapes and antagonizes private lives in the book. 

The misuse and abuse of bodies is one visible consequence of this intersection between the personal and the commercial. One of my favorite poems in Crawlspace, Sonnet (7), illustrates the relationship between commercial excess and oppression of otherized bodies through dazzling and disorienting language. Wallschlaeger writes:

Father, there’s a ruin in our bibelot.
I light apple cigarettes when I look at the
collection of misogynoir gimcrack you left
behind. The FBI hosts symposiums and
they’ve claimed the work of disco house
Holton St. border from the black holocaust
museum their evil metered laughter. Girl
they just keep joking about us.

The address to “Father” in the first line links the decadence of capitalism (“a ruin in our bibelot”) to patriarchy, a duo that has manufactured centuries of casual misogyny and racism in the name of entertainment, convenience, aspiration, and wealth. Meanwhile, we can get any kind of cigarette we want—a slow death dressed as consumer choice. In capitalist fashion, the bedazzled syntax of the next sentence doesn’t really mask the violence it contains, but it does provide an appealing container for it—a museum or a disco house maybe. (How much difference does it make when you’re in the gift shop?) The patriarchal and white supremacist violence that manifests as physical force used against Black women (domestic violence, police brutality, sexual assault) cannot be separated from the capitalist violence of consumerism (anti-Black media imagery and beauty products, decorative cultural appropriation, the oversexualization of women of color). The former is enabled by the latter; the latter is a distraction from the former. At the end of the poem, in relatively pared-down language, Wallschlaeger writes: “The way you took away my safety is fine,” and then, in the final couplet: “I’ve accepted that / I’m a black vagina.” The use of the body as decoration results in the reduction of people to their most vulnerable and commodifiable parts.

All of the poems in Crawlspace are labeled as sonnets, and the sonnet form here is at once flexible and rigid. Wallschlaeger forgoes the rhyme scheme and strict meter of traditional sonnets, but often maintains the rhetorical structures, including turns like the one in the couplet quoted above. She also sticks to fourteen lines, though some sonnets are extended into multiple fourteen-line segments. Some sonnets have lines much longer than the traditional form, while others have very short lines—but all of the sonnets use the form as a means of restriction, a move that’s underscored by Wallschlaeger’s uncomfortable enjambment in poems like Sonnet (7) above. All the flexibility of line length, stanza structure, metrical patterns, and varied lineation exists only within the container of the sonnet form, which functions for Wallschlaeger as a means of capitalist control. She writes that the poems in the book come from “a series of sonnets that I’ve placed into small buildings, but since the bank owns the buildings that I move in, I am only paying mortgage.” In this light, the slight variations within the form, which by the end of the collection feels so dominant as to seem hegemonic, begin to look like survival mechanisms—or even, as Wallschlaeger sees them, subversions, “micro-victories against hegemony.”

The association of the sonnet with love and romance then serves as a reminder of the ways in which hegemonic forces seep into everything—and how capitalism allows this to happen. “What is the difference between / a house and a mall really?” Wallschlaeger asks. Romantic and familial relationships, self-image, race and gender dynamics, sexuality, cooking, cars, furniture—it’s all produced or appropriated by this system. Even protest is “hidden safely in Hattie’s famous / frown” (or maybe Kendall Jenner’s famous smile). This is why Wallschaleger’s excessive linguistic patterns work so well—the piling up of concrete nouns, compounds, and adjectival phrases; the ecstatic and confrontational music; the repetition and listing to the point of exhaustion. We are meant to feel overwhelmed and exhausted—as exhausted, maybe, as Wallschlaeger’s speaker does: “I’ve been exhausted my entire life // I hate telling you / how I really feel.” By the four-part Sonnet (50), the speaker’s language has become so infused with the capitalist promise of improvement and its accompanying racist double standards that it is convulsive:

                                    I am
mad mad. A bad bad girl who
can never be sad when white
people are good. Only white
wives are good women even
when they’re bad wives but
when good women are sad
good men don’t listen to
them either however our
shared sadness at being bad
girls or good women does not
live in the same neighborhood

you think we need to have to
transmogrify into good women
good wives with good men good
educations good children good
communities good poems good
girlfriend good food good books
good hair noses cufflinks good

The poem doesn’t end so much as jump over the ledge it’s been approaching this whole time: “say I am not good JESUS will save me /sterilizations executions intoxications / sunless moonless nameless homeless.”

Many of the poems toward the end of the collection address physical violence directly. In Sonnet (54), for example, Wallschlaeger writes of Michael Brown’s death, the use of his death in the name of art and entertainment, and the subsequent erasure of the state violence that caused his death, which in turn makes space for more violence: “he is still being killed in a diversity / of ways we are killed in a diversity of ways / I am killed in a diversity of ways & now / newspapers have started to write poems.” The relentless “diversity” of violence here echoes both the empty neoliberal calls for “diversity” as a flimsy solution to racial inequality and the relentless “diversity” of products and choices offered by late capitalism in the book’s previous poems. The echo is by design—a reminder that these are interdependent mechanisms of systemic oppression and none is extricable from the other.

And yet, we shop. We buy. We watch CNN. We drink Pepsi. We light apple cigarettes inside our mortgaged sonnet houses because what else? Perhaps this is why the book’s excess is not merely tiring. All the trinkets and shiny stuff of this book make it pleasing, irresistible, exciting, tantalizing, an effect that is complicated—but not reduced—by the links the book makes between consumption and violence. The appeal of Wallschlaeger's language is that it is both pleasing and troubling, at once glitzy and subversive.


Rochelle Hurt is the author of In Which I Play the Runaway (Barrow Street, 2016), which won the Barrow Street Book Prize, and The Rusted City (White Pine, 2014), a novella in prose poems. The recipient of awards and fellowships from Crab Orchard Review, Arts & Letters, Poetry International, Vermont Studio Center, Jentel, and Yaddo, she is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Slippery Rock University.

Review of Lisa Allen Ortiz's Guide to the Exhibit (Perugia, 2016)


Field Notes to Guide to the Exhibit by Lisa Allen Ortiz

a review by Amie Whittemore

Exhibit A: First poem of the collection, “Admission,” in its natural habitat.

Exhibit B: “Patois,” unlike some species of poems, which shy from view, wants you to look at it.

  • Writing field notes to a collection of poetry that purports to be a guide but is also itself an exhibit is like sketching a painting at a museum while your friend photographs you and posts it to Instagram. It’s a double-exposure, a layered haunting.
     
  • We must toil between knowledge and experience. Sight is dangerous, Ortiz warns us. Blinding even (see Exhibit A at right, but also, the poems, “Identification” and “Beginner’s Guide to Birding”).
  • If Field Notes are a translation of witness, if every language is local, if the exhibit includes us, if notes are inherently incomplete—
  • My guess is you haven’t read this book. Perhaps because it is not overtly political in a politically charged climate. Perhaps because Ortiz stays out of the self-promotion game, a Google search picking up a sprinkling of poems, her website, but few other sightings of the poet in her natural habitat.

Exhibit C: Excerpt from “Cyanotypes of Anna Atkins” where we see how we see what we see and make it so

  • In a blog posted November 2016, Ortiz writes, “we [poets] more than others are comfortable with the incomprehensible, the obscure, the vague, the wildly emotive, the disingenuous, the cruel, the fanciful, the ignorant, the willful, the victimized, the helpless, the wounded, the misunderstood. In poetry we support the multi-vocal, the plural.” The plurality of experience rests at the center of Guide to the Exhibit, as it examines attention—how do we direct it, and in doing so, what do we nurture?
     
  • See Exhibit C (below, right): what do you feed with your gaze? What is the self, and its accumulations, but a hall of forgetting—what is the point of remembering, when everything will leave? What is the point of making, when everything will fall apart?
     
  • Ortiz unfolds such questions gently as cloth napkins laid across your lap.

Exhibit D: Excerpt from “At the Friend Level.” Not shown: how I imagine the friend level, fathoms deep, plumb line sinking into ocean, touching every current.

  • To exhibit is to publically display. Every exhibit directs a gaze, knows it is meant to be gazed upon. Channeling Rilke, Ortiz continually examines the act of perception, of witness, of (in)sight, what it renders, how it renders us.
     
  •  Her magic rests in form as well as content. In Exhibit D  (below, left) we see the poet’s dexterity particularly clearly in this syntactical move,  “verb: pronoun, verb: pronoun.”
     
  • Such fine tethers between “you” and “me” in Exhibit D, the punctuation barely joining, slightly dividing—like the drift of my eyes following birds as they flee your mouth (see Exhibit B).
     
  • Marked: you, erased: me.
     
  • If to exhibit is to publically display, it’s important to note that Ortiz exhibits private geographies, of the heart and mind—love, its playfulness; how we are all microbiomes; what it feels like to lose a parent, to contemplate paradise while drinking Mai Tais; she attends to quiet liminalities, slippery in-betweens.
     
  • Yet, she is also looking (always, with the looking!) at what is public, though we don’t often associate that adjective with glaciers and bowerbirds, with beakfish and turtles; in short, the world, the self—we’re all exhibitionists. Who’s looking at whom (cue Rilke winking behind the curtain of every poem)?
     
  • What’s (mostly) absent from these poems: social media, pop culture, political references.

     
  • What shadows the edges: war, climate change, the many ways we wound each other.
     
  • What is often at center: curiosity, splendor, grief, the art of lov(s)ing. Is it a privilege to not write directly about war? About identity? About traumas of the body and mind? Surely. Do we need more collections by a diversity of writers about war, identity, and trauma? Of course.
     
  • However—
     
  • While Guide to the Exhibit may not feel of this sociopolitical moment, it nonetheless reminds us that what we attend to, we feed.
     
  •  Looking: you, fed: me.
     
  • As Jack Gilbert writes in, “A Brief for the Defense:” “To make injustice the only / measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”
     
  • Gilbert again: “We must risk delight.”

Exhibit E: Excerpt from “Microfossil Exhibit” asking us what we’ll handle, see, and note in our brief time, with our failing sight.

  • What happens when you do not attend to Trump’s latest tweets, when you do not attend to coiled debates on social media, when you do not attend to anything that happens on a screen—are you feeding something else?
     
  • What is it? Attend to it. Exhibit it.
     
  • There is a difference between resistance and persistence. Both vital, but one is formed in relation to the enemy (resist) and one toward your own devotions (persist). Guide to the Exhibit may not be a book of resistance, but it is one of persistence.
     
  • Persisting: you, nurtured: me.

 Amie Whittemore is the author of the poetry collection Glass Harvest (Autumn House Press, 2016) and co-founder of the Charlottesville Reading Series in Virginia. Her poems have won multiple awards, including a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize, and have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Sycamore Review, Smartish Pace, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. She teaches English at Middle Tennessee State University.

Review of Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence (YesYes, 2017)

A Conversation on Rape Culture between Lisa Summe and Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence


all italics are quotes from Melnick’s book
CW: violence against women, sexual assault, rape

 

Lisa Summe: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today. How are you?

Landscape with Sex and Violence: You know, even simple questions like this can be complicated for me. Sometimes I feel like I don’t understand how to deserve anything // or how misery and sunlight inhabit the same / vibration in my skin (51). Even on good days, feelings like this can take over.

LS: Yeah, like it’s out of your control.

LWSAV: Yeah. Because sometimes no matter the upright life I’ve been trying to lead / I keep looking for new ways to bluff myself // so hard I’m always pleading for relief, frantically / trying to locate whatever blunt object would sock me // into unconsciousness. I know what it’s like / to be powerless // on a shag rug (59).

LS: I wish you didn’t know what that’s like. Knowing what that’s like, though, isn’t discussed enough, so thank you for making a space for this conversation and giving it your energy. Can you talk a little bit about how the patriarchy perpetuates feelings like this, of utter despair and hopelessness, especially for victims of assault and rape? My understanding is that there are A LOT of components at play. Medical professionals, for example, are just one group who contribute to victim-blaming (which is just one aspect of the problem), further fueling the ways in which society as a whole refuses to believe victims of assault and rape.

LWSAV: I’ll tell you one story as an example: I am holding all my blood in vials on my lap. // The spatter is delicate. / I guess I am bleeding all over the scenery. // I was born in November. // But you want to hear about the clean stretch of pavement / where a beetle once lived // or the surrounding archways that were the kind of architecture / that bodies who have been treated gently like to enjoy (7).

LS: Many turn their heads like it’s nothing. People don’t want to hear about it, don’t want to acknowledge this kind of violence because it could cause them or someone else (the abuser!) “discomfort.” The people close to us and the “professionals” we are supposed to trust are often the worst culprits. And I’m mostly talking about cis-men because they are the ones with the most power. And many of us have intimate relationships with them, sexual and otherwise.

LWSAV: Totally. When victims choose to speak up, not being heard is only part of the problem. What stems from not being heard is, consequently, either being forced to remain silent or being forced to speak up again and again, causing the victim to relive their trauma. It’s like, how can I get you to believe me, to listen? I am going to confess this once // and then I am going to confess it again // in different ways I won’t admit to but never mind. This won’t be the last time // I let the riffraff envenom my body // while they pretend to be heroic (1). Mostly men keep singing / while dark blood collects where I open (13). Exhausting is an understatement.

LS: Men think they’re fucking saviors.

LWSAV: A stray gets into the building and everyone’s got something to worry about / and everyone’s a hero because they are all so fucking concerned // about the dog, but she’s taking her clothes / out of the dryer // and taking her scarf from around her neck and hanging herself / or hoping to // except she’s too afraid of heights to climb higher than her height (36).

LS: One of your strengths is just this, the way you unapologetically reveal misogyny and the violence that comes with it. It’s very personal here, talks to various “yous” directly, paints pictures of the damage (physical, emotional, psychological). You don’t talk around it. You say the word “rape.” Many of the ways you reveal this damage is through various physical landscapes. Can you talk a little bit about how violence and rape culture is conflated with place?

LWSAV: I’ve gotten to this point where I am just going to tell everyone // everything / that’s ever been done to my face (69). Place and rape culture are inextricable simply because no place exists where we can escape from it. There is no safe haven. One of the ways I address those "yous": I imagine how tenderly you’d peel the crime / from what I left exposed // but my formative years were mostly alleyways / and men being brutish so // I’m confused about a lot of things // like, I crossed this burning blacktop for you when / I momentarily thought if I confessed // how long I’ve been open season, slaughtering season / you might shoulder me past city limits alive (52).

LS: And we do not consent to participate in these landscapes, yet we are forced to confront them, to engage with them, often in order to simply stay alive. Even when we “understand” rape culture, analyze the patriarchy, and advocate for change, there is no way to escape or “prepare” ourselves for the dangers we face simply by existing.


LWSAV: Exactly. I was warned more about rattlesnakes / than anything I actually lived with (77).

LS: That’s not surprising.

LWSAV: I didn’t emerge well-trained into this savage vista / because all the houseplants were succulent, and, // while anyone could witness rot writ all over my blighted arrangement, // no one stepped in (2).

LS: This goes back to what we talked about earlier, how we can’t count on anyone to step up to bat for us, to intervene when we’re suffering. We lash out at men, and for good reason. I personally get really pissed off at the media, too, for many reasons, but, most simply, for favoring men and perpetuating rape culture.

LWSAV: Last year everyone wanted to talk about gun violence / and how America was founded on a certain measure of blood // which isn’t a metaphor nor was it / anywhere in California // in the back of a car when a man asked // “bout I ram this barrel up your pussy and pull the trigger (73)?”

LS: Jesus. You also discuss sex work openly. My understanding is that violence and sex work are inextricable because of rape culture.

LWSAV: This week everyone wants to talk about sex work / but I don’t // want to hear about how it’s just like waitressing / or the time I watched a friend fold shirts at a boutique (74).

If I could just make it to morning without selling myself // one day I might have some land / beyond this ficus pot // whose heart leaves leak their poison / inside this slummy garage // where I sleep daytimes / in a city I’m sure I’ve mentioned before (63).

LS: It’s fucked up that people will argue against evidence of violence. How do you talk back to people who say that women’s rights have “come a long way,” that we have more than we’ve ever had, that we are bitches, should shut up, etc.?

LWSAV: If there hasn’t been a moment at your job / where for an extra $10 you let a man spit on your face // and cum in your eye // then I don’t want to hear about all the empowerment // I failed to find (74).

LS: Check your privilege, folks. Anything else you’d like to share with us?

LWSAV: I am sad about the world. And I am fucking furious. I am, myself, both an object of grief and a cry for help. But remember // (I almost forgot to tell you) // I lived // in a desert / where palms are signposts of water, not the want of it (86).


Lisa Summe was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Tampa Review, Smartish Pace, Lambda Literary, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. She likes cats and running and cookies. You can find her on Twitter @lisasumme.

Review of Lo Kwa Mei-en's The Bees Make Money in the Lion (CSU, 2016)

The Universe of Lo Kwa Mei-en’s The Bees Make Money in the Lion: A Review

by Madeleine Wattenberg


Unmade, unmake, unsung, undress, unpin, underfoot, unbearable, unwar, unwound, unthinking, unmapped, unslit, unforgiven, unhurt, unspeakable, until,

Lo Kwa Mei-en’s second collection of poetry, The Bees Make Money in the Lion, is a collection of un-verse. It presses language in its attempt to undo itself, its speakers, and the systems in which it necessarily operates. A shifting lyric “I” sings at the centering of this undoing. “The reverse of the universe is round—a ground with a ceiling,” Mei-en writes. A trap: the universe overturned is the universe. There’s no up or down. Instead, the poems’ speakers orient themselves towards the red horizon of mars, of citizenship. They’re spliced through data, embodied and stamped as girl, outsider, immigrant, alien, cyborg. It’s an orientation toward a constellation of past, present, future—dead light guiding.

At a recent conference, I had the opportunity to ask Lo Kwa Mei-en what it means to “write after.” She urged me to consider instead: who receives this after? Who will get to write the “after” and have the power to frame and define it? Who will watch from earth as those white enough and wealthy enough rocket through pollution and border-as-violence to colonize mars? Who will undergo inter-planetary transport already shaped to their purposes of procreation, production, service, slave? The Bees Make Money in the Lion explores these questions literally and figuratively. Space exploration maps exploration on earth—the future will make a map of the past. The future is a ripple outward from origin, not a linear trajectory toward a new beginning:

. . .                           So fair is the bright nuclear summer’s bateau,
us sweetly inside. Thus, reflect. The reef is glass, the chain is deaf
gold, and the future is bright, this bright, but flashing in fright,
the mild bloom like a child in bloom, like a world refracting.

The narrative is a sci-fi adventure, and thus a romance, and thus the narrative of colonization. The Bees Make Money in the Lion is concerned with systems. Sequences of sonnets, elegies, aubades, and pastorals populate its universe in layers of constraint. Additional rules of the abecedarian or repetition doubly bind these forms. Speakers are forced to generate utterance and movement within the insistence, even violence, of this constraint (“I would run my finger down your seam”). Because Mei-en’s speakers operate within these limits, they must multiply inward and into language to establish agency. In a sequence of “Babel” poems, both the first and last words of each line repeat: “After falling, an economy is taut to eject the body, to break” becomes “After rebelling, the light was good, if original. I love winter, fit to break” in the subsequent poem. The collection is one of formalist maximalism—strata of rule and regulation. Yet within the line, the expected “taught” appears as “taut,” demonstrating one way that Mei-en multiplies and destabilizes meaning within the confines of the form. It is in this purposeful slippage that speakers gain a sense of agency.

Throughout the collection, the syntax enacts a process of destabilization within the determined rules by subverting the reader’s expectation. Mei-en is able to predict what words a reader (and particularly, I think, a native English speaking reader) expects in the sentence and exchange them for phonetic similarities—the reader is in this way put in the position of questioning the rigidity of their neural-linguistic coding. Here, bees make money, not honey. This work toward multiplicity is also necessary for the ongoing conversation of identity and space. “I too have acted like an America,” the speaker confesses. One small article (“an”) stands against the monolithic conception of America—there are as many Americas as Americans, and “Honey in a foreign girl’s roar is the key to auto / -fable, and here be lions.” Honey (or is it money?) is the means by which to fashion a self-made myth.

At times the speaker is lion, at times the speaker is bee—the promised body, the colonized body. In her poems, Mei-en performs an interrogation of hierarchy. “My monarch is feral,” she concludes in the opening poem. By the collection’s middle, the speaker inhabits the lion in multiplicity. In rhetoric of proclamation and self-address, she states, “Lo, I am lions.” Turn the page, and the lion degrades, an undoing of the undoing: “when I diminish the lion I start at her tail, for love of what I demolish.” The reverse of the universe is the universe.

In contrast to animal kings and kingdoms, the honey and cage, many of Mei-en’s speakers inhabit the language of technology. In these poems, bodies run programmed scripts of race and gender, speakers practice a mechanized art, soon swept away in a data wash, and “glib gears reproduce my body in www but not in / world, not yet.” Infomercials, chat forums, textspeak—the “computer nightingale” sings. In “Aubade for Non-Citizens,” citizens compete on reality TV for the title “colonist,” and this is “[t]he future, the TV / vectoring the colonists’ self-portrait.” We already live in a world where viewers vote their favorites into the colony. Mei-en highlights how we’re living this future. In “Pastoral for Colonial Candidacy,” the speaker declares, “I have a futurist’s job . . . a mechanic / who shows up for what was long since determined.”

Some poems, such as this one, engage in dialog, signified by white space, italics, or shift in tone. The abecedarian “Elegy with Status Quo and Albatross” begins:

Arbiters of beauty’s immortal orbit are the rich. They know a buzz
            beelining the bikini of the universe if its kicks them in the essay,

            collective conscience says [on stage]. Doves collapse the hat (the hoax
du jour) and [in the wings] belles go wild, wild, wow—

even past take-off, I’ll dance for love of the leitmotiv
                          for one big step for—              [The business of] take-off:

 The order of the English alphabet is the status quo. The layers of performance through which the speaker constructs and deconstructs longing, the advertisement appealing to “love of something bigger than—.” This is the log of citizenship, sailing to American-Dream-Turned-Martian-Dream and the new motherland is the motherboard: “X-ray this, motherfucker, socket / circuit twinned, sex on a memory stick . . . I am a kill switch. I mean, I want to be still // and retrieve my obedient self to unlearn.” The lineage of the android is computer mediated DNA.

In the “Babel” sequence, the speaker takes on myth of language: “The legend screws us like we came together in a loving tongue.” As she rejects the monolithic nation, Mei-en rejects the mono-language of humankind. “So unscrew it,” she says, inviting her reader to join her in this process, loosening the system’s nuts and bolts.

What can be affirmed in the un-verse? It’s a language that refuses to be settled in—that rejects the settler. In The Bees Make Money in the Lion, the undoing is the doing. Despite longing (“Let there be more world to wait for than this in this world”), there’s no wiping clean the hard drive of language. Even Mars is not outside the system—we’ll take ourselves with us when we go.


Madeleine Wattenberg's lifelong dream of writing reviews entirely in emojis feels closer than ever. The words of women and nonbinary writers keep her imaginary zeppelin afloat. Her own work appears or is forthcoming in journals such as Hermeneutic Chaos, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Mid-American Review, Muzzle Magazine, Ninth Letter, and Guernica. Direct birdcalls to @topazandmaddy.

Review of Sophie Klahr's Meet Me Here at Dawn (YesYes Books, 2016)


After reading Sophie Klahr’s Meet Me Here at Dawn

by Rachel Mennies


[all text excerpted in the original book appears in italics]
 


an early poem named dare          say when:          its border learned only by crossing it


here Chicago     New York     Orlando     Miami         in each room only the speaker and her lover        


I walk through the paid rooms (vols I/II/III)          each full of pocket mints     lotion     matchbooks     the paper bag of cash          personal effects that, if left behind, successfully identify nobody


(here is never the lover’s wife       I never see her face)
 

I greet the erotic with a hand in the dirt          After sex sometimes, there is blood on the sheets          the erotic with a hand in the air          Night comes down / through the trees, cups my face / upwards—          I pause in the dark         where both sex and prayer begin with clasping fingers


          To consider: I loved a hive of light
To consider: I came when he bit my palm
 

this book wishes me to pray         how the speaker asks whose hand is whose         how she lies beside another body         disappears with your piece of God
 

and reappears in the unavoidable illumination of aftermath          the sun rising through dawn blinds in each paid room          light in the airport, trembling back         


light on the brother whose life snapped back, a bough pulled down then released          light on the father holding the speaker for the first time, a baby         


(that is a mailbox he tells her          that is a tree)
 

Klahr’s line expands and contracts from poem to poem         a song hummed into different jars          then unscrewed
 

after leaving the paid rooms for good           the speaker trades rhetorical positioning          if morality has a fiber to it could it heal itself?        for the windows opening wide         it is the fifth year of our affair          for the lights turned on          what have we brought forth?        
 

across its brightened threshold she brings a bride wading into a pool         
 

I never see her face
 

I look away the first time I read the word wife          as if I’d walked uninvited into the poem (a bedroom          with the door ajar)          I’ve been trying not to mention your marriage but they say a gun onstage          must go off                    
 

each time after          I do not look away
 

I set out to review Meet Me Here at Dawn in a more traditional format and, as I do with any book I'm (re)reading with the intention of reviewing, I took weird, shorthanded notes in the margins. As I read Klahr's bookin particular, as the speaker's important troubling of the boundaries between intimacy, eroticism, and loss grabbed meI looked over my notes and realized they'd crystallized into a sort of poem themselves. I offer up this creative response, based partly on those margin notes, entirely at the altar of the original book: a rendering done in gratitude for having read it.


Rachel Mennies is the author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, the 2014 winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry and finalist for a National Jewish Book Award, and the chapbook No Silence in the Fields. She teaches writing at Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of AGNI’s editorial staff.