Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Bright Field of Everything

I first picked up The Bright Field of Everything because I once took a poetry class from its author, Deborah Fries, and because we've had a mutual respect and encouragement for each other's work ever since. But I would have loved it even if I didn't know its author, because it's my favorite kind of poetry: rich in both creative language and insight, inviting the reader to reach out for meaning without veiling itself in inscrutability.

It doesn't hurt that the first poem is about Marie Curie, an endless source of fascination for me (and, I'm pretty sure, for many others). Curie toiled both physically (processing radioactive ores essentially by hand) and mentally for her discoveries; her story is both admirable (determined woman makes good in the field of science) and tragic (her hands were covered with radiation burns, her blood cells and bone marrow ravaged by the work, the notebooks she used still dangerously radioactive). In "Marie in America," Fries describes Curie's damaged hands "coiled, as if waiting to crack open earth's / friable magic ..."


From there, Fries covers an amazing amount of ground, zeroing in on health and the lack of it, the people and homes we lose through life, the fleeting and intense beauty of moments that don't last--except as we write them down. The vehicles she uses for this journey include butterflies, limestone, rutting deer, bodies in the Tigris River, eels, fruit flies, hospitals, computer screens. Over and over as I read, I found myself thinking Yes, that's the way it is, recognizing truths in original clothing. "Medium" describes an act so many nowadays indulge in: gleaning information on exes from the internet, collecting digital pictures and data alone in the dark ("Through her flat screen, she monitors / his life months after the death of them, after it failed / to take"). "The North Shore" (where couples go "to see if it's going to work out") begins, "We are descending into Duluth in October fog, sorting / greys to separate earth from harbor, girder from crane ...", chronicling the difficulty of seeing through fog, separating lake from sky, figuring out where we're going in a world of uncertainty. "Afterwinter" describes the outward spring as it reflects the hope for the inward spring of health following illness: "Under the knife ourselves not so long ago, / we understand stoic, sapless, pruned ..." and, "stick-brittle / in our fear that afterwinter may never take hold ..."

I could go on quoting, but I leave the rest for you to discover. Only, in honor of this cold March on which winter is loosening its grip only by inches, and in honor of people so recently "under the knife," I'll finish with the final lines of "Afterwinter:"
" ... Then this thaw comes.
Under foot, above, everywhere this mucky, sweet Yes."

source of recommended read: bought

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