Our second post in our monthly series of poetry recommendations features Paisley Rekdal’s Animal Eye and Lily Ladewig’s The Silhouettes.
(recommended by Lauren Moseley)
. . . more light, more light,
your hand against my shoulder, the image
of the one who taught me disobedience
is the first right of being alive.
—from “Why Some Girls Love Horses”
So ends the first poem of Paisley Rekdal’s fourth collection, Animal Eye, which was released this week by University of Pittsburgh Press. Whether Rekdal’s roving eye falls upon a beloved but indomitable horse, her grandfather’s notebooks, wax figures in Madame Tussaud’s museum, a stuffed fox, sea anemones, or a dragonfly, she is searching for articulation of the human condition, especially of human thought. These poems present not only the natural world, but also the psyche of the speaker so vividly that the reader must constantly shift focus from the outside in, outside and in. The effect is both dizzying and euphoric.
Take the poem “Yes,” in which the speaker imagines seeing her lover “at a restaurant with his wife / and two children.” The lover leaves the table and enters the bathroom, and in her reverie, the speaker is “there suddenly / behind him, no longer light / or witness but a pair of hands / wrapped around his chest, / the hot face pressed into his back.” Later in the poem, through a seamless shift, the speaker puts herself in her lover’s place:
I turn to the sink and splash water on my face.
I rub my forehead with a towel
as a woman’s small hands wrap themselves
around my chest. I feel nothing for them.
I want to be in my own mind now.
I want there to be an end
to dreaming, to this voice that asks
if I want her, if I miss her, am I ready to leave
what’s at that table and join a life in which
everything is a reflection of wanting.
The human mind does the most miraculous things, often without our noticing. By capturing the mind’s movement, by showing how it slips, Paisley Rekdal enthralls and enchants.
(recommended by Megan Fishmann)
I am moving as slowly
as possible so you won’t see me. An
assemblage of. What hurts where.
We didn’t sleep for weeks. When we did it
was about the forsythia. This is all I ever
wanted: a room of Martie-Antoinette-blue:
a chandelier where my heart once was.
This exquisite quote is taken from one of the many poems entitled “Shadow Box” in Lily Ladewig’s gorgeous collection, The Silhouettes. (Full disclosure: Lily is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We met as wide-eyed, bushy-tailed teenagers at Bennington College’s Summer Program and have been inseparable ever since. So you can imagine my joy in hearing the news that Spring Gun Press was publishing her debut book. See a trailer for one of her poems here.)
A shadow box, by definition, is an enclosed case used in dioramas where the object inside has been designed to let light pass through from only one angle. Lily’s poems are mini-shadow boxes, wherein her objects–models, lovers, empty streets, and all things Francais–are delicately put on display. She arranges her focus carefully, her sincere point of view illuminating each description.
One of my favorite “Shadow Box” poems lifts up with the musical lilt of Lily’s voice, spotlighting two lovers:
I don’t remember you putting even one
finger inside. Me: these burns blotches, the
dresses I wore. An example of the body. The
body wants what the body. Wants. It is so
The body here seems to hum with an electricity resonant of shame coupled with desire. She continues:
Is it possible to be in a garden
And not be in Italy? Each night we managed
to consume. Two lobsters each. Apple pie
a la mode.
Are the lovers consuming one another? Are the lovers consuming the delicacy of lobster flesh? Or are they themselves the lobsters, writhing in their exoskeletons?
We embellished the margins
with the city. To wake up every morning
forgetful. City of fedoras. You might say
it was trusting but you would never veer wrong.
Somewhere, the city of. Shaking bedbones.
All I want now are your birds. All of them.
Her illumination of these lovers, among so many other gorgeous images, strikes the reader’s heart.