Monday, May 17, 2010

Rachel Zucker, museum of accidents

I’d pay a thousand kopeks for a story I wouldn’t believe.

But you can’t do it because I believe everything,
have seen everything labeled and tagged and valued and sold.

Told and retold to a highest bidder.

We’ve kept the children safe. Our
vows. The lush and sunshiny world: we bought it.

Sometimes, at night, I wish I’d married Norman
Mailer and just once would like to make a man
riding by on a bike lose his balance
and die, make Mailer stop, mid-novel, to watch me
walking through Manhattan, buying nothing, not a thing.

Not happiness, not love, not the antidote or formula or trigger.
Not a pair of well-fitting jeans or self-esteem.

What dark thing, love, have you done to me?
Not dark enough. (“what dark thing”)
There is a formal edge to New York City poet and editor Rachel Zucker’s poetry I have long admired, and a way that she shifts perception, shifts lines, in the first three of her trade collection of poetry that changes in this, her fourth trade collection, museum of accidents (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2009). This is a work pushing a more open form than her previous, and darker as well. Zucker has always skirted the edge of the dark, but these poems seem to have a far better comprehension of what that darkness means, and what the skirting could possibly lead to. In museum of accidents, hers is a more exhaustive joy, citing a litany of those things that can go wrong as we endure, unbeaten. Zucker writes out the best collapses and containments of domestic, even as it all threatens to fall completely apart; the joyous mess of domestic, if you will. museum of accidents is a collection of ordinary madness, a display of things that weren’t meant to happen, perhaps, but did nonetheless and everything still held together, which might sound achingly familiar, I’m sure, to anyone else with a household of three children.
this is my family. mortals on our way to mortality
and around and in and out of accidents.


and this is what, just my museum? every country has one.
with rooms of hair and children’s shoes and a woman holding
one child while the tsunami sweeps the other away and a whole city
going underwater and what people eat for breakfast and one place
left on earth without human beings the planet beset with plaque and
a room of women giving birth to babies under anesthesia called
twilight restrained so later they will not appear unsightly – what
medicine was that? accident. and step this way are rooms and rooms
and within these other museums of explosions and planes and fish so
luminous we can’t imagine and words –


planes have taken me all over the world
without incident. some brought me
into harm’s way but no harm befell me (“more accidents”)
There is a restraint let loose in these poems, a difference from her previous work, that I very much appreciate; less restraint, but no less thoughtful and carefully made. museum of accidents writes a collection that stretches the boundaries of itself and still holds, wrapping lines around silence and silence around so many lines, as though her writing is transitioning as well. What of the “Long Lines to Stave Off Suicide” (p 12-17), writing, “I couldn’t breathe when I heard it or believe what a good mother / I’ve been just by staying alive” (p 12), or her final piece, “The Death of Everything Even New York City” (p 76). It’s as though this is her 9/11 book, her reaction to the centre of the world as it happened; the book where everything changes, everything changed. Will the first three collections, years from now, be seen as one structural period of her work, with museum of accidents as a transitional, or the beginning of something further? I would say that any and all of her books are worth reading, worth owning, but there’s a dark fear in this collection that is overwhelmingly new; but one, still, held back from taking over completely. At least, there’s that.

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