Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sarah Blake, Let’s Not Live on Earth


Women are not often killed in the street.
They are most often killed in the home.

At every doctor’s appointment, I’m asked,
Do you feel safe at home? The women

who should answer, No, most likely ends up
dead—shot, if we’re going to be specific.

And I want to be specific, when every vague
word seems to hurt me, when it’s thought

the surface speaks to everything needed
to be said because the woman works

on her surface alone. Look at my dancing
on my own skin. Even the shell of me

resembles nothing you could touch me to
with words. Reach out elsewhere, your hand.

Philadelphia poet Sarah Blake’s poetry collection Let’s Not Live on Earth (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), a follow-up to her striking debut, Mr. West (Wesleyan University Press, 2015) [see my review of such here], takes a bit of a darker turn. Composing a series of lyrics more overtly personal than in her first collection, Blake’s poems attempt to negotiate physical, personal and cultural space, referencing depression, marriage and gun culture, and the knowledge of having to eventually explain certain things, including suicide, to her son, such as in the opening poem, “SUICIDE PREVENTION,” which immediately sets the tone of the collection: “My son bends down to hug a family / of very small ghosts. // I don’t know how to talk to him about death. // When I told him about his great grandfather, / who he’s named after, and that conversation / led right where you think—He’s dead— / he told me, Only bad guys die, and I / could only argue that so many times.” In the book’s first section, composed of shorter lyric narrative poems, Blake writes of monsters, violence, motherhood, and writing about what parents fear most: death, whether theirs or yours. “I’m dead and you’re still alive / and I come back. // I come back // to see you. I come back / to tell you something?” (“A POEM FOR MY SON”).


Just ok / Just like that / Just like it / Just worry / Just there / Just so / Just as / Just because / Just observed / Just disparate / Just a part / Just trying / Just the paper / Just more / Just get / Just because / Just like / Just the flowers then / Or just / Just get / Just haven’t / Just come back / Just in case / It was just that / It’s just / Just once / I just want / Just after / Just an obituary / And just / Just more / You’re just / Just not

The second half of the collection is made up of a single, lengthy sequence, “THE STARSHIP,” a “science-fiction epic poem” that explores what might happen when domesticity breaks down, and aliens subsequently arrive and invite you to leave, constructed out of one hundred and two short stanza-scenes, including:

First you notice how small the beds are.
You’ve been sharing a bed with a man
for years. This will be the biggest challenge
for you, but you get it. It’s as if the aliens
are saying, We’re happy to have you
but this isn’t a good time to get pregnant.
And you wonder about the medicine
on board. You wonder if doctors volunteered
to come on the ship. You wonder
if you’re of any use at all.

Blake’s Let’s Not Live on Earth is a book of anxiety, writing out the complexities and stresses of being alive in her particular place in her particular time, from marriage and children as well as the larger cultural issues that impact all of the above. If the first section specifically explores her anxieties, what becomes curious is in how the second section explores leaving everything behind, which slowly makes clear how many of those same issues, and same anxieties, remain. Let’s Not Live on Earth is a striking and complex book, one that provides no easy answers, but exploring, instead, the navigation of certain difficulties, especially those that might be impossible to remove.

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