Saturday, January 19, 2019

Nina Puro, Each Tree Could Hold a Noose or a House

elegy with burnt spoon & horse chestnuts

there were
tiny coyotes
in the walls.

could feel my lips
but they weren’t attached.

lights harshing
the big rigs
sway in their wind.

snaggletooth girls
with takeout boxes.
little crucibles of heat.

we all have drowsy
recording devices.
chosen names &
amplify the

we are so clever.
we keep

shake my hand,
then count your fingers.

Poet Nina Puro’s debut full-length collection, winner of the 2017 New Issues Poetry Prize, is Each Tree Could Hold a Noose or a House (Kalamazoo MI: New Issues Press, 2018), a collection of confessional lyric, each imbued with a fierce and fearless restlessness. In Puro’s poems, there is an acknowledgement that every object, every word, is a potential weapon, and one that can be far too easily used against us, and these poems offer both precision and witness, examination and exhaustion, a fiery optimism and a determined heart. How does one survive and not be broken?

I am not sure if what I wanted for myself, once, was a witness. To what happened. To naming what happened. No way to describe. The tyranny of language cannot. To have cut how many cities down, bodies back, plastic rings from soda cans & balconies & receipts. A sky particulate: engraved with fine tracings, latticework or ironwork. A buzzing in the room. I didn’t know where from. Light-specks floated from our feet, as if we were an inauspicious constellation. As if radioactive.

There is the past & there is the past. There is the sound of metal in wind—off-kilter, tonight. A boat with no ocean close. As if it knows something in the low tones, as if warning us in the high. If the ghosts are back. In the close-packed concrete room, I could see the whorls in the girl’s ears, the darkness that hung around her—unnamable damage, something rent—& that was part of it: the witnessing. The way her hair fell in dark wings along the mark the blade left. A gash longer than the length of what we could understand—scale, irrevocability. (“Bare Life”)

Puro’s poems are thick, and impossible; the finest kind of political, in their adherence to speaking of family conflict, silences and trauma; how the world breaks, and how people break, forced to abandon everything or begin again from scratch. “I’m not sure how I decided / to join the living,” Puro writes, to open the poem “Shift Work,” continuing: “but I know / when it began: that winter so long / persimmons lasted until April / & the neighbors hissed until three a.m.” There is darkness here, but one that is examined alongside the light, weaving intricately in, around and through, concurrently writing hopelessness against hope, and the possibility of all that could begin. There are lines that leave marks, and render bone; lines that catch, and carry. There are lines that take what can’t be said, and speak it, such as this fragment from “Top 40”: “A father is a piano full / of bees Gender is a skirt of wet rocks,” or the ending of the poem “elegy with trillium & medical records,” that reads:

if we weren’t
wax I’d remember
how to measure
kings burned a cigar
then weighed the ash

dozens of holiday weekends
spent speaking only to
the stove.

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