Thursday, December 18, 2014

Michelle Detorie, After-Cave

In motion is how we live, sleeping inside skin. I want wheels turning only in, around. My clothes, they get thin as I get worn. We were looking out for tracing clouds, fin slid under wing. We were without beds. I nurtured sounds. We came to land on land like rest. We fluttered full to nest only sticks built into temporary chambers. (“Fur Birds”)

Following the publication of a series of chapbooks through Insert Press, eohippus labs and dusie, Santa Barbara, California poet Michelle Detorie’s lively first trade poetry collection is After-Cave (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2014). Composed in three sections, each of which are constructed via a collage of untitled poem fragments, prose-pieces and short lyrics, she opens the first section, “Fur Birds,” with “I am 15. Female. Human (I think).” The poems then move into an exploration of what the book describes as “feral life,” disappearing into the wilderness and abandoning numerous comforts of human culture, writing:

Digging underground, I disrupted homes that did not belong to me
but wound deep and tethered together.
          I thought of coupling tunnels and the downward wind of tubed
                              Like swans
                                        leaning in, their necks so long:
         the forged reflection
            the rubbed-out lake

Remember: her narrator may or may not be human, openly admitting at the offset to a rather considerable uncertainty, allowing the reader to find nearly anything else the narrator describes as possibly suspect, however open and sincere ‘her’ descriptions, admissions and considerations might be. Exactly what might our narrator be describing, one might wonder, or do we simply take her at her word? The way the accumulation of short pieces stitch into each other to create a larger construction is quite impressive, and her section-fragments shift and shimmy between abstract considerations, pure description, articulations of shelter, displays of animalistic tendencies, and talk of social interactions, shifting between a narrator who claims to have left the world long behind (in the ‘mad hermit in the woods’ sense), to someone who has merely stepped away for a moment. Towards the end of the collection, Detorie admits to the possibility of the abstract and even contradictory qualities of what this unnamed narrator presents: “To insist that something—someone or some being—cannot be / imagined is, in fact, its own form of oppression.” As poet and critic Bhanu Kapil suggests in her back-cover blurb, this is very much a collection exploring a space between “feral life and the ecology of shelter.”

We measured the mountains.
This small sadness:
I can hold in my swale, taste
it only tongue. Salt
showers and the glow
inside bones—lit up,
electric signs. The desert
is the pain of home, the home
away. This withholding—
it makes me pine all the more.
Sympathy is a craving. The stone
around us turns to ice.

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