Monday, July 04, 2022

Julie Doxsee, The Fastening



When the house decayed, I drove
around for days, messy swerves
in the foothills. I stared

at my foot on the brake,
swallowed by machine-tomb. I couldn’t

get out and lie on the grass—it was grave and grey with snowman
slush. I couldn’t swim under the snow-floor

feeling the prophecy creep. Prophecy,
I can’t love you. prophecy,

the future is rattling.

The fifth full-length poetry title (and first I’ve seen) by Pennsylvania-based Canadian-American poet Julie Doxsee is The Fastening (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2022), a collection of sonic twists and gyrations, turns and parrys less surreal than jarring. “It isn’t that there’s no / honesty out there.” she writes, to open the poem “BANG EMOJI,” “It’s just / that storylines have always / discreeted themselves / into tree hollows, followers, / phoneys, mannequin-ruins.” Her work has the curious echo of the work of another Black Ocean author, Zachary Schomburg [see my review of his latest], offering a similar tone through examinations along prose and narrative disjuncture, although one with more interest in the possibility of the line-break. One could compare her work, also, to that of Canadian poet Stuart Ross, although his more an overtly-surreal bent; Doxsee’s poems, instead, offer something a perspective that, at first, is grounded, but then leans into a tilt. “There is a whole lot / of windy noise when / a sudden face comes / to kiss me in the recess.” she writes, as part of “10,000 GLINTS,” “A witness saw / this pair of hands / part my lips / from outside-in / and freeze there, / awaiting exhale / and the boundary / of my cold body.”

Down the length of each page in accumulated short lines, Doxsee composes odd scenes and surreal stabs, tentacles and maps, writing out connections and disconnections, and almost a confusion between what we might think of either. She writes of childhood, death, love and other dark corners, as though composing a book of origins: seeking out, through the storm, the mouth of the river. “I enjoy phases of time / like that.” she writes, to open the poem “BANGKOK,” “I once enjoyed / a goat hoof in the heart, / kicking hard. Still, I have / skin-aches boring out and out / and out to the smothering / bricks. Am I taller than you?” There is a remarkable calm and even reassuring to Doxsee’s poems, amid such possible chaos. Perhaps it is simply the measure through which her lyrics speak. There is something of the monologue to her poems, after all, something theatrical, even performed, in her lyrics. It wouldn’t be out of place, one might think, to hear someone on stage reciting her lines, such as this section, the opening of the three-page poem “PLANET GRAVEL,” that reads:

I was awake all night
scrubbed of wires
and of the ribbons of veins

that used to pump
good blood around.

Mosaic flesh parts
head to toe, unpieced,

cracks blackening apart.
I ideated scrubbing

the planet gravel
with steel wool

to raw the commotion,
sheen it tender. The word

tender means kind and
loving and caring.

It means money
and pain and juicy.

How did thrall
wholly evaporate

then precipitate
me tight inside

a shucked shell
shaped just like

my body but more

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