Sunday, December 05, 2021

JoAnna Novak, New Life


Beyond copse and corpse, hedgerow and scarlet hip,
the tent is white and obvious. Inside, a bride

begins her tour. Her train is gone, veil a jubilate
square. Now congratulations and congratulations and

this baby suits you. I have traded my Napoleon
for chicken. I am one sad stop, inevitable as a dandelion

clock. A dessert fork dings the first glass. Cousins
constellate and fib. Look at little mama, how

beautiful, peacocks gawping the photo booth, look
at some smokers off stubbing cigarettes on the empty

lawn. It is easy enough to smile through toasts, friends’
confessions, a brother’s snafus in a dress

of Normandy blue. Secrets macramé the neck,
and silence the sonar, starlit in rain.

Across the lawn, our story skips the dogwood grove:
I too walked an aisle, really very happy.

Writer, editor and publisher (founder of the chapbook publisher and online journal Tammy) JoAnna Novak’s third full-length poetry collection, following Noirmania (Inside the Castle, 2018) and Abeyance, North America (New York/Kingston NY: After Hours Editions, 2020) [see my review of such here], is New Life (New York NY: Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Constructed in five numbered sections of narrative lyrics, New Life articulates her pregnancy, often in surreal, descriptive tones, composing short bursts of lyric narratives that explore around and through the core of the experience. As the title poem, “New Life,” opens: “does not survive on protein alone. My ankles are bound / to tear marching this reef, yet what a thrill—bloodying / white pumps. The island is mine. A mole on earth’s back, / bull’s eye, bingo, scratch, bite. At seven and twelve and thirteen / weeks, the pulse shimmers like a firefly: interruption.”

There is a shift in tone and tenor from her previous collection, one held in state and space, “ultrasounds and sustenance” (“Forecast”), engaged in a simultaneous anxiety and calm, the contradictions of anticipation, agitation, isolation and connection through the stages of pregnancy. “Wading in waist-high— // wait,” she writes, as part of the flow of the poem “Tides,” “where is the waist?       My bulge, // my bilge, my breasts, my rolled // neck: feels like the rest of my life, // totting / weeks to translate days, [.]” She writes of phallus, lake, glitter and agency with a swagger and rapture. Clearly, hers is a lyric of pointed precisions and very physical gestures; of effects bore down to bone. “What would you do with / a thick moment off the map?” she asks, in “House Sitter,” or in the poem “Trimester,” where she writes: “Give me grander // reptiles on this inhospitable island. Garter on a swing tray, / diamondback tub, / Animal, I don’t want to go in            the pool / and I won’t lose my tongue // and I won’t like your table. Give me ether, / at least twilit sleep, Tonga Room / dreams, trek over stream, / rain and rum on the half hour— [.]” There is such firm confidence in her lyric, even as she navigates such unfamiliar terrain as this particular state of the body and impending birth; a confidence that holds firm to every lesson garnered, glanced and won, as the two-page poem “Everything and fireworks” ends:

I’ve learned what I have
to do is a sentence;

what I get to do
is a gift.


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