Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Emily Pettit, Goat in the Snow

This is the memory of a house, so no one lives here.
Here we like our emergencies savvy, ravens
flying low, close to our witness. Try standing
and watching yourself disappear. A new way
to see things is kaleidoscope style. When you walk
past a certain kind of light, you can cast
six different shadows all shaped like you.
One wakes every fifteen minutes. One waits
for a specific series of noises. The walls here
hold wind, whether you believe it or not.
Hey house, how come you terrorize with anchorage?
We would like to disprove the watched-pot-never-boils
theory, though our waiting chore seems on the verge
of destruction. Any not staying lost with the lost
thing feels like a betrayal. House full of tumbleweed.
Mouth full of tumbleweed.

What immediately becomes clear about American poet Emily Pettit's first trade poetry collection, Goat in the Snow (Birds, LLC, 2012) is the fact that it would be impossible to not be charmed on sight with any book dedicated to “Rita the magnificent.” Built in three sections of short poems, Pettit’s are poems that turn on their end. Odd and surreally-charming, her pieces stretch logic into something entirely other, and entirely her own, while making more clear sense than you might ever want to admit. As she writes to open the poem “Red Wings Collapsing,” “What do you call a field of black telephones ringing? / A problem? Sometimes I make ridiculous gestures / with my arms and legs, and call it dancing.”

Given that so many of her poem titles begin with “How to,” one might suspect that these pieces have been composed as instructions or suggestions, perhaps, on how to navigate through the world, such as “HOW TO RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU HAVE BEHAVED BADLY AND BEHAVE BETTER,” “HOW TO HIDE FROM ANOTHER” or “HOW TO HIDE AN ELEPHANT.” There are lessons stretched across these narratives, small truths buried deep beneath other truths, each one a bit more unusual than the one before, and the shades of her surreal gaze are reminiscent of the poems of American poet Sommer Browning, or the landscapes of writer Stuart Ross. How could you not want to live within the fields of Emily Pettit’s poems? The beauty of such a collection is not in her illogic, but what she does with logic, creating her own spaces, and her own worlds where her logic makes the most sense of all.


Get up. get up and pretend that your head isn’t full
of tiny broken sticks. It will be worth it to walk
through the door such a complicated mess,
crazy to such purpose. One way to torture a person
who is sleep deprived is to pretend the house is on
fire. Look very serious and say, Fire! Fire! Fire!
Look very serious and say, Water! Water! Water!
Look very serious and say, You built a better body
of water. Yes you did. Where did you find such a
stunning embankment? Pretend you put out the fire
with the better body of water. Pretend you are
a medium to large marine mammal. I will be
a fly on the wall dressed as a person, a person who
has complicated ideas about what constitutes a wall.
No doubt I’m a little faded, dejected, incognito,
noncommittal. I only do practical things.

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