Friday, December 23, 2022

Mira Rosenthal, Territorial


begins in dirt, clumps of Queen Anne’s lace, bindweed unfurling in moons
in the morning

to start somewhere to perform one’s certain act of failure

begins as still life with foliage & road

one man with a shovel, digging one measure-full of map, a clump resting heavy on
his blade

one woman in a house up the grade laboring at a washbasin, her hands pinked raw,
her mind worrying some idea east to west, passing it through every state her
imagination has to offer

begins with her view out the window: blot of man in grass landscape

to throw one’s sorrow throw one’s lonely sorrow like a clod of dirt to the sky

begins with the sound of rustling, dried stalk against stalk in wind whipped up by
the motion metal makes through space

& you, love, in the passenger seat with muddy boots & what’s native to your veins

The window rolled down, the hand making waves

& me admitting: I am that woman, I am that woman (“The Invention of an Interstate System”)

The second full-length collection by award-winning California poet and translator Mira Rosenthal, following The Local World (Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 2011), is Territorial (Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022). Selected by Terrance Hayes for the Pitt Poetry Series, Territorial offers an assemblage of lyrics that unfurl and reveal across the subtle cadence of narrative lines to speak of the intricacies and minutae of anxiety, despair, resolve, and, as Valzhyna Mort offers as part of her back cover blurb: “The nuances of person & place [.]” Throughout the collection, the expansiveness of Rosenthal’s pared and rhythmic descriptions exist almost as a process of dismantling, stepping moment to moment in a pacing as clear and calm as glass, even across examinations and descriptions of anxieties around violence. Perhaps, too, the anxieties she describes is laid bare through such clear syntax, and I can only imagine that to hear such words spoken aloud might feel akin to a combination of speech and song, simultaneously revelatory and devastating. “No more defenses. I detect the human / beast,” she writes, to open the poem “Subway Theory,” “its astringent waft from the valley / of tracks, from the pushing back / & forth of air as red ticker-tape flare / doles out one measly letter at a time / in the dim ark where I wait, composing / my hypothesis.” There is an element of Rosenthal as a poet documenting the darkness from within, attempting a grounded clarity through a culture of reckless abandon, beauty and consequence. Whether through poems constructed through short or long lines, each poem is set as an extended thread that reveals itself, slowly, through patters and patterning; physically and rhythmically thick, as they sit on the page. “Bone, the bulb & socket of it,” she writes, to open the poem “Dislocation,” “how you cope, how you shift / the weight you carry. / Wicking sweat into cotton where it runs along the spine, descending / from your neck that strains against some phantom / purse on strap, on shoulder tensed / from what you’re used to lugging with you— / perhaps this book, or colored pencils, an apple / in case the run to anywhere / takes longer than expected. A pattern / grown out of life’s deviation.”

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