Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Laynie Browne, You Envelop Me

The roses by her bedside, thumbing. The texture of the roses is insistent. She stretches out in the mouth of the flower. In and out of the room no matter who is in the corolla. She needs to own the disc or eye. She wants to whisper to the bedside, to work beside the lurch. The bedside tray isn’t used anymore because she does not eat anymore. The mouth cannot see the straw and the small drops of water but the lips can feel. The feet are cut off yet still visible. They fling but are paralyzed. The bird outside the window knows nothing of the solitary room inside the rose. The bird inside this subject is not yellow but beyond color. The bird inside the window is hindsight and the bird inside her memory is flying. We’ll fly and remember every phrase or step we ever took. It takes a long time to dance all the way back past her many treetops— can be seen from the window and light and air. Music frees more than I could ever locate inside a register of night made by the dark wings of birds inside your hidden eyesight. (“Written at Bedside”)

Given how little I’ve read her previous works (she is the author of multiple titles, including over a dozen works of poetry and fiction), I’m enjoying American poet Laynie Browne’s poems in her latest poetry title, You Envelop Me (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2017); there is something in the way she stacks her lines on top of another to create something resonant, and meditative; something that speaks of and directly to the ongoingness of grief and mourning. As she writes to open the poem/section “September Shall Never End”: “To the funeral in your brain: // You are afraid to travel long distances so you do not read where the line / or the road is going.” 

Constructed entirely, one might say, of long distances, the poems in You Envelop Me are built as extended meditations, from the six part sequence “Owl Pages” and nine-part (running from #16 to #137) title sequence to the eight-part “An Urgent Walk Across A Moor.” Browne’s poems shift from the lyric fragment to the prose poem, each piece existing as part of a much larger canvas, something that stretches across the length and breadth of the nine poem/sections collected, and the book as a whole, writing out the loss as one that “envelops,” as opposed to simply an absence; loss and grief, as one knows, is far more complex. This book is very much one that I expect to move through for some time, and even cause me to check out what else of hers I’ve been missing. As she spoke to the process of writing the book in an interview with editor/publisher Rusty Morrison on the Omnidawn website:

One thing that very much surprised me in writing this book and in my mourning process was the connection between birth and death. Childbirth requires intense physicality, and finality of passage. Whereas in birth this rigorous process precedes the arrival of new life, I experienced death in a similarly overwhelming process after the passing of a loved one. I describe this process of mourning as similar to contractions in childbirth. And whereas contractions increase and intensify as birth becomes imminent, the contractions of mourning I experienced were most intense immediately after loss. Painful grieving can arrive from nowhere, several years later with the same force. They can swallow a mourner. Suddenly traversing time one finds oneself back at the brink of crossing. Time becomes non-sequential. It wasn’t writing the book which demanded anything of me. It was living through an intensity of sadness and separation. My writing became my companion, my oracle, and an attempt to remember and record what I experienced as gifts of proximity to spirit. I was cognizant during the time that this heightened sense of closeness would wane. I wanted the company of writing through the unaccountable, and lostness. I leaned even more heavily than usual on writing as contemplative practice, as well as on meditation and dream transcription. My hope— an ongoing and impossible aspiration— is to be entirely present.

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