Thursday, September 27, 2012

Enduring Freedom, Laura Mullen


the kiss of white on white
pages the book shuts a bride-
to-be dreams her dress a deep
pile of ashes the wind lifts
unfurling the long pale flag of
shreds to lace and then
this red incoherence the few
stuttered vanishing words
of the service dust to dust
the shadow of meanings cast
over these open snowfields
after the weeping faithless
reader through whose burning
eyes what lies ahead passes

American poet Laura Mullen’s Enduring Freedom (Los Angeles CA: Seismicity Editions, 2012) is a collection of prose poems exploring the ideas of the bride and the wedding, and all that comes with it, admittedly an unusual book to be going through, in the days leading up to my own wedding. In the titles of Mullen’s I’ve seen, including Subject (University of California Press, 2005) and Dark Archive (University of California Press, 2011), each explore a different idea from a series of directions to come, if not to a conclusion, a multiplicity of conclusions, exhausting a subject akin to the book-length explorations of poet Cole Swensen, if composed by, say, Lisa Robertson.

“The couple having a private moment.”

She should be seen being lifted out of sight: on a high trapeze still rising, say, and swinging above the stage, hissing “I hate you I hate you I hate you…” In the dimness far above she whispers spits and mumbles, she shrieks and flings down into the pooled light on the floor the various masks she’s been wearing: alternating “beautiful” (carefully made up) faces with monster visages, so lipstick-y smiles flop down along with snarling muzzles or gaping holes fenced with broken brownish fangs dripping reddish froth… “I haaaaaattttteee you!” She trills it out, standing on one foot, still in that silly bird costume they made her wear, singing it. And plop: the blond wig tumbles to the ground and then the brunette wig and so does, shortly, the silver mane and the nest of writhing snakes. I hate you, she thinks it hard enough so that it seems to fill the shadowed space, as she hooks her knees over the bar and swings, upside down, back and forth. “I h-aghydpn goooo” we hear (but faintly) as she rips apart the frilled and feathered gown – dropping fake breasts into the sawdust below, thump, floosh – and pulling the luscious rubber ass-mask around and up over her face…

This collection of essay-poems, subtitled “A Little Book of Mechanical Brides,” sweeps through a range of possibilities, with titles such as “Pride Bride,” “Bride of the Detail,” “Bride of the Lists,” “Bride of the Flaw,” “Bride of the New Dawn” and “Bride of the Venue.” The book exists as a series of portraits, each composed around another point-of-view. As she writes to open the poem “Bride of the Dream of the Perfect Day”: “As if good weather meant, no, were wedded bliss: a series of standard phrases or married words, conjugal felicity for instance (for instance for instance). Dark clouds can swirl like dirty tissue in an overflowing toilet somewhere else for all she cares but here and now Fine is the only forecast.” The title of the collection intrigues: is the “freedom” of marriage something akin to the Roman peace (Pax Romani) that needs to be endured? Within the collection, she (the narrator) references herself as an “oafish archivist,” suggesting more than a few things, including the fact that the collection as a whole is built as a complex study, perhaps before the author finalizes her own decision on the subject?

White Bride

Blank page. It’s this dress – I can’t breathe in it. Deep flounces of colorless fabric mount as if trying to reset a clock, a wake, our task to look back and not look back. Salt at the wrist – then up the arm to the shoulder, all the way to the bitter white heart. Bandaged: existing as erasure, I appear where I disappear. It’s a costume or an heirloom or it’s both. It’s a copy: it’s unique. It will only be worn once, and then it was only worn once: on the most important day of…. Then it’s listed among unclaimed gowns at the cleaners or crushed into a corner of the thrift shop. “I pretended I was in a play,” she confesses, speaking of her wedding, “I’d done theater – I knew how to get through it.” Colorless scentless sift of time and this feeling of connection to events we didn’t experience then this sense of being disconnected from what in fact…. And elected – representative. “I wish I’d put it on before and learned how to walk around in it.” Unmarked or almost: maybe a smudge of dust or a faint smear of what looks like rust at the edge of – but you’d have to know where to look. Because it cost too much to clean it. “Regrets? I wish I’d known how hard my dress would be to move in…I would’ve practiced.”


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