With an epigraph from Freud comparing the mind to a landscape in which all that ever was still persists, The Eternal City offers eloquent testimony to the struggle to make sense of the present through conversation with the past. Questioning what it means to possess and to be possessed by objects and technologies, Kathleen Graber’s collection brings together the elevated and the quotidian to make neighbors of Marcus Aurelius, Klaus Kinski, Walter Benjamin, and Johnny Depp. Like Aeneas, who escapes Troy carrying his father on his back, the speaker of these intellectually and emotionally ambitious poems juggles the weight of private and public history as she is transformed from settled resident to pilgrim.
From The Eternal City:
WHAT I MEANT TO SAY
Kathleen Graber ?
In three weeks I will be gone. Already my suitcase stands
overloaded at the door. I’ve packed, unpacked, & repacked it,
making it tell me again & again what it couldn’t hold.
Some days it’s easy to see the signifi cant insignificance
of everything, but today I wept all morning over the swollen,
optimistic heart of my mother’s favorite newscaster,
which suddenly blew itself to stillness. I have tried for weeks
to predict the weather on the other side of the world: I don’t want
to be wet or overheated. I’ve taken out The Complete Shakespeare
to make room for a slicker. And I’ve changed my mind
& put it back. Soon no one will know what I mean when I speak.
Last month, after graduation, a student stopped me just outside
the University gates despite a downpour. He wanted to tell me
that he loved best James Schuyler’s poem for Auden.
So much to remember, he recited in the rain, as the shops
began to close their doors around us. I thought he would live
a long time. He did not. Then, a car loaded with his friends
pulled up honking & he hopped in. There was no chance to linger
& talk. Today I slipped into the bag between two shoes that book
which begins with a father digging--even though my father
was no farmer & planted ever only one myrtle late in his life
& sat in the yard all that summer watching it grow as he died,
a green tank of oxygen suspirating behind him. If the suitcase
were any larger, no one could lift it. I’m going away for a long time,
but it may not be forever. There are tragedies I haven’t read.
Kyle, bundle up. You’re right. It’s hard to say simply what is true.
For Kyle Booten ?
Jollimore is a professional philosopher, and in witty and profound ways his formally playful poems dramatize philosophical subjects--especially the individual's relation to the larger world, and the permeable, constantly shifting border between "inner" and "outer." For instance, the speaker of "The Solipsist," suspecting that the entire world "lives inside of your skull," wonders "why / God would make ear and eye / to face outward, not in." And Tom Thomson--a character who also appeared in Jollimore’s first book--finds himself journeying like an astronaut through the far reaches of the space that fills his head, an experience that prompts him to ask that a doorbell be installed "on the inside," so that he can warn the world before "intruding on’t."
From At Lake Scugog:
tend to cluster in prime numbers, sub-
oceanic bundles of bug consciousness
submerged in waking slumber, plunged in pits
of murk-black water. They have coalesced
out of the pitch and grime and salt suspended
within that atmospheric gloom. Their skin
is colorless below. But when exposed
to air, they start to radiate bright green,
then, soon, a siren red that wails: I’m dead.
The meat inside, though, is as white as teeth,
or the hard-boiled egg that comes to mind
when one cracks that crisp shell and digs beneath.
Caress the toothy claw-edge of its pincer
and you will know the single, simple thought
that populates its mind. The lobster trap is elegance
itself: one moving part: the thing that’s caught.
A river. And if not the river nearby, then a dream
of a river. Nothing happens that doesn’t happen
along a river, however humble the water may be.
Take Rowan Creek, the trickle struggling to lug
its mirroring across Poynette, wherein, suspended,
so gentle and shallow, I learned to walk, bobbing
at my father’s knees. Later, whenever we tried
to meander on our inner tubes, we’d get lodged
on the bottom. Seth, remember, no matter how we’d
kick and shove off, we’d just get lodged again?
At most an afternoon would carry us a hundred feet
toward the willows. We’d piss ourselves on purpose
just to feel the spirits of our warmth haloing out.
And once, two bald men on the footbridge, bowing
in the sky, stared down at us without a word.
Moving from 1960s Long Island, to 1980s Houston, to today's Brooklyn, the poems range in subject from the pages of the Talmud to a squirrel trapped in a kitchen. One tells the story of young lovers "warmed by the rays / Their pelvic bones sent over the horizon of their belts," while another describes the Bronx Zoo in winter, where the giraffes pad about "like nurses walking quietly / outside a sick room." Another poem defines the speaker via a "packing slip" of her parts--"brown eyes, brown hair, from hirsute tribes in Poland and Russia." The title poem, in which the speaker and friends stumble through a series of flawed memories about each other, unearths the human vulnerabilities that shape so much of the collection.
From The Two Yvonnes:
WHEN MY DAUGHTER GOT SICK
Her cries impersonated all the world;
The fountain's bubbling speech was just a trick
But still I turned and looked, as she implored,
Or leaned toward muffled noises through the bricks:
Just radio, whose waves might be her wav-
ering, whose pitch might be her quavering,
I turned toward, where, the sirens might be "Save
Me," "Help me," "Mommy, Mommy"--everything
She, too, had said, since sloughing off the world.
She took to bed, and now her voice stays fused
To air like outlines of a bygone girl;
The streets, the lake, the room--just places bruised
Without her form, the way your sheets still hold
Rough echoes of the risen sleeper, cold.