Thursday, October 21, 2010

Joshua Harmon, Scape

Solitude is not an absolute number, though if I outlast another night counting on my fingers, it may begin to seem that way. The hedge outside grows nearly as fast as I can prune it, though I prefer to rely on the pity of passersby rather than the fickleness of my own sunlit instincts. And my ladder won’t reach the tallest branches. Objects disappear within the foliage for days at a time, then reappear on the lawn when I least expect. Superstitious, I’m just as happy to hide behind my hedge, gathering whatever folklore I can find, as to peer through that alliance of branches and leaves at the road. (“Summer’s Tenants”)
I was taken by this small gesture, this first small collection of poems by American poet Joshua Harmon, Scape (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2009), recommended to me by Paige Ackerson-Kiely. Wrapping the collection around prose poems, short lyrics and an extended lyric sequence or two, Scape is entirely built from smallness, the subtlety of carefully-considered lyric gestures, gymnastic language and enduring depth.
The landscape remains obedient to previous notions. It is Massachusetts outside my window and Massachusetts in my mind: it is only the site of some larger omission. The landscape an open system of fires, a naïve word’s wound, a trick made of phone wires and a waiting breath. The asphalt taught me as asphalt always teaches, friction and burn, all rough texture. I thought it misfortune, not remedy—a crumpled cardinal’s red feathers in the road. I crammed for hours to learn to predict this weather, to memorize the shape of the overslept-on pillow, to balance my bicycle and my checking account, to locate the surge in my chest, to plot a course even this far. Make it in Massachusetts. (“Landscape”)
Whatever landscapes Harmon writes are linguistic first and geographic second, wrapping around each other in a magnificent way. A follow-up to a first novel, Quinnehtukqut (2007), the book tells me nothing else about the author. What else is there to know? I’m intrigued.
Trepanned: in other words, my mind wanders
no farther than the map I drew from memory,

marking the stone-circled embers memory makes smoke
—wisps to occlude whatever arrow-line I’d draw near.

Next is the legend: asterisk for tree, speck for settlement,
double dagger for ruins, circled star for fallen star,

wave of my hand for broken satellite, exhalation for
exhalation spent climbing the rise step by step

toward the form of the field, the retirement of assent.
Here lake, here site of ambush, here fallen king.

The thistle’s tendency—its bent posture—toward the oracular.
The wolf’s basking ruse.

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