The theme for this issue is strategically reserved. It does not reveal the way through or even promise that one exists. Nor does it advise how one should get through a day, a life, or even a poem. It merely offers the possibility of a path, leaving its limits, boundaries, and shape up to the poem’s form and the poet’s imagination. Throughness, however it is constructed, implies the passage of time and space. To go through is to move among and between, with and against. It is to blaze a trail and to lose one. It is the desert leading to the promised land and the valley of the shadow of death. It is being exiled from your origins and being told to return to them. Taken together, these poems challenge notions of progress and reconsider narratives of completion by meditating on the many ways through.
Jeff Whitney’s two epistolary poems, each titled “Dear Phil,” are envoys of throughness. These “letters” are addressed to an intimate other, which inhibits the reader’s ability to have full access to the significance of the letters’ content, purposefully blocking our way at certain points. Formally, direct statements follow one after the other, as if the speaker fears that without these constant assertions the very laws on which the universe rests might collapse:
There are canyons where buffalo were marched
and fell. Their hearts were eaten and their spirits
became the clouds holding the next season’s rains. Not a thousand
moments in one continuum but one moment stretched
across stars until it isn’t even a question what the rope is
tied to or who is doing the crossing.
The personal becomes historical as language turns in on itself, trying and failing to find a clear way through from sender to receiver, self to other, past to future.
After Whitney’s expansive declarations and accumulating logic, John Fry’s two poems, “antiphons from a prodigal prayerbook” and “debris field” appear as near inverses, dwelling in absence and fragmentation as they sift through possible constructions of self and are transfigured by the divine. These poems work by the logic of negation—“not writ but voice…not dirt not rain”—and the refusal of presence: “absence inside / an absence arisen, little Lazarus / walk in your shoes of fire.” They are about dwelling in and with one’s sorrow and stillness, not finding a way through it: “your / sorrow sewn into // a shirt / as penitents / wear sackcloth and ashes.”
Logan February’s two poems “When the Fire Came” and “Still Life with Falling Ash” are framed by and formed through trauma. “When the Fire Came” edges around the event that it cannot narrate yet must remember. The speaker corrects, revises, and second guesses himself as traumatic events, while registered by the body at the time of their occurrence, are often not fully experienced until they find a narrative later on: “Let me rephrase: // I have told you all I remember—wicked white fire, / tree reduced to soot—a whole history blacked out.” In “Still Life,” this distrust of memory transforms into distance from the traumatic event—the speaker is not able to go through the fire, only touch its perimeter: “I circle, I explanation, I exorcism.”
Jessica Yuan and Chera Hammon’s poems explore labor and want—both in terms of desire and lack. Yuan’s “Fluorescent” explores what it takes to get through the day—the work, the drudgery, the everyday violence inflicted by an economic system that forces us to sell our labor for a wage. Each day is unremarkable, filled with repetitive tasks and faceless workers:
Ten tiles by ten tiles you scrub again
with a woman who is not your sister
(this is how you tell time is passing)
you are hungry then you are full.
Lovely lovely lovely beast, and terrible with strength.
How I am afraid of him, but still I can't get enough.
This is the only way I know how
to make each day leave its own bruise.
Hannah Kroonblawd’s “Maundy Thursday” juxtaposes the last supper, during which Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in an act of service and love, with ongoing violence and war. It is hard to believe in any promise of resurrection and renewal in a world where “the children learning to read… / they cannot breathe” because some anonymous “they” are “dropping bombs.” The speaker’s body is disarticulated by the poem, spread across the globe as she tries to hold together these disparate realities: “my heart // on one side of the world my lungs looking out on a field of flowers.” There is no guarantee, here, of making it through whole or alive.
They long to one day learn
they have been living on the inside of a frame.
I know now what they know, to know you’re being watched
will never satisfy.
Once you know somebody’s watching, how you long
for them to speak to you.
Todd Davis’s “Returning to Earth” presents throughness as a process of becoming. Invoking the promise of a material communion with the more-than-human world, the poem reconfigures the cycle described in Genesis: that we will return to the ground from which we were made. This poem materializes language and makes the body a space for the intervening cycles of creation and death:
In dark’s shelter I place the words
of a prayer upon your tongue.
You are gracious, saying
the prayer back
into my waiting mouth.
Here the way through is always circular, as the poem reaches back to “a source / older than our names / for God.”
Thank you for reading Issue 46 along with me. I invite you to share how you found your own way through these poems in the comments below.
Like what you read? All of these poems and more work are available here.
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