Monday, September 16, 2013

Nyla Matuk, Sumptuary Laws


Three hundred times as heavy as our sun.
The Bubble Observer scientists report
gurgling and whizzing and equivocating in a ball
of swollen crimson gas burning
like a braintrust of firebrands and cake batter.

See the Monthly Notice of the Royal Astronomical Society
for updates, they say. This jobber—R136A1—sits around the house,
a rich tanned coot at the corner of Magellanic Cloud
and Shalimar’s Dowry, 165,000 light years
beyond the Milky Way.

The CN Tower casts its ex-cathedra shadow by day,
recently suited in LED lights, red and purple.
With the moxy of junior vampires,
we sharpen our teeth on compound interest and youthful abandon;
that is, aggregating the infrared of the city

and taking possession even as markets make
sweet sad plumage of our abandoned wives.
A motive pure as sunrise, sure as sunset.
Watch the flick of green and greedy gold on a deerfly:
a glittering buzz we still don’t understand.

Composed with four sections and a commentary, Toronto poet Nyla Matuk’s first trade poetry collection, Sumptuary Laws (Montreal QC: Véhicule Press/Signal Editions, 2012) is built with the same care and craft as a European novel, discussing and disarming both beauty and romance, even while being disappointed by both. Hers is a poetry shaped by fact and fiction, blending science and travel with tales of romance, tales of corruption and deep loss, and a lyric sentence. As she writes of the peanut in “Anthropology of the Peanut”: “There is hope in you, for the millions starving, / the supermarkets of Georgia.” If hers is a narrative poetry, it includes only the essential elements of the story required. Matuk writes of walking sticks (“ugly as an umbrella’s disrobing”), reason, Barbados, An Affair to Remember, Don Draper, Dupont Street and heroin, striking a worldly but not entirely-worn perspective, writing poems that attempt to explore and even understand the seeming-impossible. There are threads that continue through this collection, from the geographies of travel, Mad Men and various illegal substances, as though the book itself is really an exploration of boundaries, including which can be crossed, which should be held, and which ones aren’t actually boundaries at all. Sumptuary Laws is a book of laws, intent and consequences.

Raoul Dufy’s Secret

At 21, I switched to left-handedness exclusively.
This ambidexterity became a naturally sequestered
practice of loving. The right carried on
in technë and telos: in language, and its endgame
of unfeeling, of inescapable decrees for the world.
For the left: greens, cadmiums, madder-pinks
off the Norman coast. It discouraged mere depictions of depiction.
It saw hierarchies tumbling and teetering, a bird’s
eye roving: buildings leaning on mountains, villas on villages,
cursive syntax of waves lifting a little boat, persons of leisure
contemplating orange blossom vapour italicized
under palm trees in a Nice casino garden. Sundays, on the jetty,
families walking in seersucker finery to the pier’s
end, little sailor suits waving to a tug,
and further still, to trawlers with their sweatered men
of concern and cigarillo. Near the end of my life,
it led me to The Black Freighter, where
a green-sketched steamship set on a black shape
enters a harbor carrying its decamerons, centrally
composed, assigning death a beauteous light.

At the end of the collection, the commentaries are as lively and as entertaining as the poems themselves, sometimes moreso, relating as small flash non-fictions within themselves. I’d love to see what she might do with such a collection of short pieces that bleed into each other to form something larger, some form of blend of memoir, fiction and non-fiction commentary. As she writes of a particular line from her poem “Lethargy”:

your old drying coat tapers to one giant fin [P.18]
In January, 2007, I visited some friends living in Palo Alto, California. One day, we took the CalTrain into San Francisco and Fisherman’s Wharf. While sitting outside the quay building eating pistachio ice cream, we observed a quantity of brown sea lions basking in the sunshine on floating docks. They would bellow on occasion but moved very little, remaining in close proximity to each other. My friend said, “once a year, someone decides to take a swim in San Francisco Bay to get closer to them, and that person is always killed by a shark. Every year.”

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