The past few months I’ve been getting more and more into the poetry of New York poet Rachel Zucker, after discovering her work in the first issue of the annual Xantippe (Oakland, California), the absolutely brilliant long poem "The Squirrel in the Palm." A poem in twenty-five parts, apparently written from December 27 to 30, 2001 from "New York – Savannah – New York," and opening line, "a mother without her children is everywhere a woman in a foreign country."
11. consider the body’s aptitude for salvage
cage of regret, nostalgia, ideas, description leaking in trivial half-lives
and technology an even greater failure : the silver-small camera is so compact it lacks the heft for seeing. Think of your skull that holds the eyes the brain that must make sense and them remember. Film is a flimsy predator for trees.
the palm escapes my everything but wonder
Perhaps the only poet I would consider comparing to Toronto writer Margaret Christakos, talking sensually through language about mothering and children, letting it wrap around long lines and lively action. I’ve not seen anyone use line lengths and spacing so well, her lines almost a counterpoint to the way Saskatoon poet Sylvia Legris uses short lines and spacing. There seem few poets who really acknowledge and understand the use of blank space on a page, and Zucker does it well, especially in the sixth section, that reads only, "6. the opposite of freedom is intimacy / [. . .] / travel is the collision of both." Written during a short trip, the New York resident and mother of two, at the end of "12. alone, the room gets smaller despite there being fewer people," writes:
so drag myself to watchfulness with a stab of catastrophic thinking and so tired, delighted I’ve half a mind to leave them and no mind left to do it and nothing to spare of this utter love incongruous
mother in a foreign
There is so much here to quote, that I could end up repeating the whole poem, written out of the divisions we end up making for ourselves, from mother to lover to woman writing, from the fragment "15. [birthing, ––]" that includes "the child becomes a wedge between her actions and self like a cyclone of gauze wraps himself / around her mothering and makes a hollow form," to "16. night alone, Savannah," the narrator talking of her son, writing, "Sleep with me he says. I like the other sheets, he says. Lime in my sippy cup? anything to keep / me. // Object of desires, I never satisfy because my very body is impractical, boundaried, impermanent." Is there a way to bridge the gaps we end up making?
19. coffee shop, fire in the hearth, a room of men
newspapers, garish paintings, poor lighting. the room hums with indifference and steaming milk. the foam is a perfect companion.
the man/boy with the black rimmed glasses and comics a condiment for some lightly-battered in-the-basket feast.
and me with my undercover stretch marks, I am almost leaving. although the focal point, deep vortex that demands me calls it, "returning"
I am total incognito: I’ve already never been here.
A chapbook, Annunciation, won the Center for Book Arts competition and was published in 2000. The author of Eating in the Underworld (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), I’m hoping this piece is included in her new collection The Last Clear Narrative (Wesleyan University Press) (I’m still waiting for a review copy).