Just your slow, pink movements near the doorway.
If there were fields, they’d long ago rolled back in agate bliss.
Until you were indelible, a dahlia.
Bale of hay, almost made for a woman bent over.
Her pale sweet hedging (which,
in certain landscapes,
is an early form of love.)
I want you slow: birds hover near my waist.
Not sleep in the distance but the mimeograph
Above all else, the trembling resembles a forest.
Some of my favorite turns in contemporary American poetry are of the astounding hairpin sort, a mountain road, night, your headlights try to gleam through the rain but instead reflect off it, freezing or nearly so, no guard rails and just a couple of feet or so beyond the off-driver’s side sedan door, nothing at all.
Louise Mathias makes many such turns in her poetry collections, Lark Apprentice (New Issues, 2004) and The Traps (Four Way Press, forthcoming 2013). She works in an extremely compressed mode of the school of poetry I like to call the “freshens your mind while you scream” school. Her poems are richly layered despite their brevities, and I think some of this richness happens because of the dangerous ways they turn.
This Mathias poem, “Prone, November,” from The Traps is a wonderful object lesson of the multiplicities daredevil (or desperate) turns can build.
Step into the poem’s frame with an unspecified pink “you” near the doorway’s liminal zone, moving, or having moved. Toward the speaker? Away? Stanza break.
A proposition, a conditional, “If there were fields.” Consider this, you to whom I’m speaking, and you readers who are somehow overhearing this utterance, who are helping to construct its meaning through the turns this conversation has taken so far, and the turns it will continue to take. A dahlia, pink in agate bliss, you, and the fields too. Animal, vegetable, mineral. Stanza break.
“Bale of hay” is bucolic enough, recalling fields, but (and here’s the swerve) “almost made for a woman bent over.” The poem’s already suggested sex with bliss, pink, dahlia and you. Here’s a woman bent over, but did she choose the bending herself? – “her pale sweet hedging”: bushy boundary? A means of protection or defense? An intentionally ambiguous statement? An element of extreme danger enters the poem here, a violence which stays with us despite the speaker’s parenthetical mentioning that “in certain landscapes” this “is an early form of love.” The bending? The hedging? Stanza break.
A declaration. “I want you slow: birds hover near my waist.” Lucky you! Or perhaps that depends on what sorts of birds – wrens or ravens? Stanza break.
A denial. “Not sleep in the distance, but the mimeograph / of sleep.” Sleep after love, or after wanting? But not sleep itself, only a blurred, purple and antique copy of sleep, an industrial age machine sleep, a grade school nap, then homework, the smell of the purple ink, the copies piling up as long as the teacher turns the handle. Not a Xerox of sleep. This is an older, more primal form of duplication. Stanza break.
Direct statement. “Above all else, the trembling resembles a forest.” I can’t help it. The “Above” which starts the final line sends me immediately back up through the poem, looking back up to see where we’ve been and how we’ve gotten here, where we might be going in the poem’s last phrase.
What does the “Prone” of the title suggest now? A portrait, certainly, but of whom? The speaker, you, us? Prone after love? Prone in despair? This “trembling” has accumulated layers, hasn’t it? Fear, desire, love, violence not the forest itself, a resemblance, a still damp blurred copy. And yet the poem has also insisted upon the “indelible,” as in art, as in agate and mimeograph. Everything dangles from the hook of this moment, ever changing, forever static, inscribed.
It’s foggy here in the mountains where we’ve pulled over and stepped from the car after nearly going over the edge. But now the fog dissipates and we look around. Yes, it is a forest, but those are not trees. They’re pink flayed nerves. Look down. That emptiness beneath your toes? That’s the abyss. I’m glad we’re here together.
Derick Burleson’s latest books of poems are Use (Calypso Editions 2012) and Melt (Marick Press 2011) He is the author of two previous poetry collections, a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and lives in Two Rivers.
“Prone, November” previously appeared in Perihelion and The Traps (Four Way Books).