Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Heather Sellers, Field Notes from the Flood Zone


Longing, Wading

Marble statues from the 1920s line our island’s promenade. The women have lost their arms and what they were holding. Boys are losing their faces.

They would not be turning and bending if there was no narrative.

Key elements of the hunt, heartbreak—a quiver, and empty vase—remain.

I tried to explain to my friend the concept of neglect for orchids.

To Kyle P. from Florida Pest Control, who picked up by its tail the dead bug on my living room floor with his bare thumb and forefinger—This, ma’am is your American cockroach—I said, Thank you. But I meant How?

Today’s rain is not the kind that gets you wet. More of a blossoming.

I’m fascinated by the unfurling prose-lyrics of Florida poet, essayist and memoirist Heather Sellers, having discovered her work only recently, through her latest poetry collection Field Notes from the Flood Zone (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2022). I’m even more disappointed that I hadn’t heard of her work before, given how delightful the titles of her three previous poetry collections sound: Drinking Girls and Their Dresses (Ahsahta Press, 2002), The Boys I Borrow (New Issues, 2007) and The Present State of the Garden (Lynx House Press, 2021). There is something of her sentences reminiscent of the poems of Anne Carson, or even Sarah Manguso, offering narrative curls that hold multiple layers beneath. “My editor listed what she liked,” she writes, as part of “Careful, Unfurling,” “what she didn’t understand, what made / her cry at her desk, and I took notes.” Writing of climate and chaos, extreme storms and the pull of an ordinary life, Sellers invokes her Florida landscape of family, childhood, determination and shoreline, all of which collaborate into a kind of lyric photo montage that shimmers in and out of focus, not unlike memory. “When it begins to rain,” she writes, to open the poem “Rain,” “it rains every afternoon, or all day, and some / nights are made more of water than darkness. // Raindrops the size of grapes, the size of asteroids. There is sweet rain, / greasy rain, new rain. Rain pools, settles in: the city is a glittering marsh.” Set in three sections of prose poems, her lines stretch across the length and breadth of a meditative rhythm and diaristic landscape, accomplishing poems that strike with the power and sure force of lightning.


I don’t want to listen to the hard, high whines of leaf blowers’ dissonant strains but I do so all morning, longing for the dusky hush of brooms.

I fight the troubled middle of my story.

I complain to my friend I don’t know. But I do know.

For the party, I make deviled eggs and outfit each one with a cilantro leaf-sail stabbed into the yolk matter—twenty-four accented syllables.

Champagne: cold hard confetti liquefied in a sugary cage.

I drive home from the big house on high ground through rain, my cat parting the beaded curtains of silver as though making way to a brand-new place.

There is such a longing here, and a straightforward lyric narrative with shades of a welcoming, almost folksy, charm. Sellers’ narrator (or narrators, plural) yearns of something tethered, something more, regularly reaching out through the expanse of emotional upheavals and climate turmoil into something beyond violence, isolation and perpetual threat, all of which is punctuated by a landscape almost unimaginably and impossibly beautiful. “The deep green St. Augustine grass sparkled with droplets of water in the / late light and the sky turned hot pink and red.” she writes, to close the poem “Florida,” “We live in stolen jewelry.”

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