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The Final Wednesday Shout Out
Well, this is it, the last entry in a movimiento here on Harriet, in which I featured every Wednesday (25 Wednesdays to be exact) books that excited me, intrigued me, renewed my faith in poetry. The honor of the send-off goes to poet Alessandra Lynch, for her second collection of poems selected by James Richardson to be part of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series.
The brutal white horses with painted-on faces
Are riding their circles, riding
Dead air. The dead air is hanging
Is ridden with riders and glued-on red
Saddles. Crumpled hoofs in the dead-on air.
The wild glare of the brutal white horses
And the crippled gold manes tossing
Dead air and the two girls who ride them throwing
Their kisses from high, battered foreheads
Through the thin screams of their stringy red hair.
The brutal white horses are riding their circles,
Veering in terror from painted-on ropes
In dead-earnest air. The ropes that suspend them.
The brutal flare of their painted-in nostrils, the brutal
Whirl of their unfurling manes in the painted-on air.
Their paralyzed mouths the yellow bit snares,
Their petrified stares tapped by flies riding air
And they’re riding in silence, glassed in
By air and the two girls who poke them
Dead in the eye and pound their fists on
The pained-on flanks are beginning to cry.
For the brutal white horses don’t bolt or whinny, don’t
Ever die, but ride their dead circles, noses on high,
The dead air upon them, the painted-on saddles
And painted-on reins, and painted-on lives. What mind
Would have them, circling and glassy, immune
And frozen in constant alarm.
The title of this book reads like the opening of a ghost story, and indeed there are many hauntings here, usually in the guise of those childhood fears—the dark, mice, hanging dolls—and the troubling experiences in adolescence that leave an indelible mark on the psyche: “Every kiss was bruise.” But then these early encounters become tropes, the shattered lenses through which the adult processes her grown-up days of loss, love and life. In a poem about birthday wishes, the speaker concludes:
The wishes were not all sublime—some cantankerous—
dirty and grim, sad, and many sweeping by
lost from the original mouth and mind
that hoisted them into the air.
For years I stood watching them while behind me
my house burned and my land and the forest beyond.
In the poem “Carousel,” Lynch examines the morbid concept of the merry-go-round and the bestiary that adorns it, vulnerable and exploitable in a forced paralysis. These “brutal white horses”—perhaps it’s the color that’s brutal, suggesting innocence and purity in a condition that is anything but—are subjected to the cruelty of the children who ride them, “who poke them/ Dead in the eye.” And then these same little girls have the gall to cry, most likely because the ride—the pleasure of the abuse—is over.
Note also the music and cacophony of the poem, interwoven dactyls that come to a grating halt with the introduction of a line whose rhythm (or counter-rhythm) completely undermines the dominant foot. As with the carousel, the dark undercurrent takes over.
Also worth mentioning is Part III of the book, a touching elegiac series of poems in remembrance of Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face, her story of survival after cancer claimed nearly half of her lower jaw. Grealy’s friendship with Ann Patchett is compellingly depicted in Patchett’s memoir, Truth & Beauty. Lynch offers an intimate portrait of a woman who relates to the world so differently because of how differently the world saw her:
Someone is always whispering
about me Lucy says deeply in my ear.
They must be angels, or harmonicas.
An inventiveness inhabits the poems in this book because there is no better way to mend the troubled psyche than through the creativity of language. In the modern world where even the birds are dangerous (“the blackbirds with their bright razors/ tucked in each wing”) how else to come near them? How else to come to terms with the strange beauty the speaker identifies with?
(From It was a terrible cloud at twilight, published by Pleiades Press, 2008. Used with the permission of the author.)
P.S. You can catch the lovely Alessandra Lynch and fellow Wednesday Shout Out-ee hunk Gregory Pardlo at The Quetzal Quill reading series I host at Cornelia Street Café, Saturday, March 29 at 6 pm. They’ll be reading with fierce short story writer Annecy Báez, author of My Daughter’s Eyes. Come by and say hello!