What It’s Like
I cannot love like a ninepin. Not
like the lane. Not like the blue shoe.
I can love like a farmhouse, or a grief-
chimney that funnels from the ovens
of my earlier unpopular period. This
is a pond where thousands
of black tadpoles loiter at the rocks.
This is a wooden raft being tipped
by an assembly of teenagers.
And there are no clouds in the sky.
No airplanes. There isn’t even
a sky. And there isn’t even a sky behind that.
Given how long I’ve been aware of her name and her work, it seems amazing somehow that Brooklyn poet and illustrator Bianca Stone’s new Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Portland OR/Brooklyn NY: Octopus Books/Tin House, 2014) is only her first trade poetry collection. If you’ve seen the recent Anne Carson collection, Antigonick (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2012), you’ve already seen some of Stone’s artwork, and one of the only frustrations that I can see with this collection of her poems is the fact that only a single image of hers, gracing the cover, is included. The poems in this collection, organized in three untitled sections, are lyrics of exploration and clarification, constantly seeking out what might otherwise be never understood. Some of the flavour of Stone’s striking straight lines are reminiscent slightly of the work of contemporary American poets such as Hailey Higdon, Hillary Gravendyck, Emily Kendal Frey and Emily Pettit for their subversion, discomfort comfort and use of the straight phrase. As she writes in the middle of the single-stanza three-page poem “Outpost”:
The ancient clouds move
over the alcoholic sky.
I have seen the grey beards
of Northern Florida,
swum with the sea cow.
I have listened to the brief
troubles of the old, black cat.
I saw my mother flume
toward the abyss and draw back.
And I, who was half asleep
for my one earthquake,
now merely a fragment
looking for the center of the earth.
There is such a sadness resting behind so many of these poems, coupled with a particular kind of fantastic observation that couldn’t be achieved any other way, akin to light shining through a deep dark. Hers are long passages that accumulate strikes and quirky lines and the collision of emotional highs and lows. There is a distinctive and oddball charm to these poems, whether the poem “Because You Love You Come Apart,” that opens with “Your hair is wonderful today. / This is a microscopic caress at a party.” or the poem “Elegy,” subtitled “with Judy Garland & refrigerator,” with lines some of which strike as hard and deep as a punch: “I take out my collection / of tissue and listen to Judy Garland / sing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, / her voice like some wildflower / absorbing into the crimped human mind / an infinite medium of grief— / this human brain that cannot assume / the trust position.” How does anyone manage such forceful writing from a first trade collection? Perhaps as the daughter of poet Abigail Stone and granddaughter of poet Ruth Stone, she had the advantage of a particular kind of education, or perhaps her innate attention to detail and the line was all she required. And there is a deep attention here, to a life as it is lived, and to the quirky thoughts that so often quickly pass, and those dark places we aren’t meant to visit, let alone attempt to understand.
Isn’t it hard, monsieur, to speak
of anything except the moon anymore?
Like the room we just now
like our mothers
refusing to blow a single fragment
off the ground
only when we look away
things flutter (“Monsieur”)