Friday, June 09, 2023

Alicia Mountain, Four in Hand


Forefather, I swear I’m falling turbulent from
the DC sky. I am sweatpalming pages the
rational blood you put in me cannot subsume.
Loosen tie. Tighten seatbelt. On the tray table
I smooth convention center notes I took in the
back row of a reading—Poetry in the Age of
the Drone. I apologize for my body, for its
puny hovering fear. The rattle as gravel on a
road in the dark of my closed eyes. Imagine
there is four-wheel drive. Me small in a car seat
and you up front saying, cattle guard. Saying,
baby girl. Saying, don’t let this rumble scare you.
Unshaken, the pitch of the cockpit voices,
the sinister lever-pull that will not right us. (“Initial Descent”)

I’m fascinated by the extended sonnet-structures and deep meditations across New York City-based poet and editor Alicia Mountain’s second full-length collection, Four in Hand (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023). Structured as a quartet of sections—“Train Town Howl,” “Sparingly,” “Initial Descent” and “MyMerrill”—each of these contain suites of fifteen linked sonnets, each poem folding lines from the prior: each opening line is also the final line from the prior, until each sequence ends with the opening line repeated, looping all the way back to the beginning. In certain ways, Four in Hand is a lyric of constraint and geography, wandering the landscape and hills in fourteen lines, fifteen poems, across a cycle of four. “Your map doesn’t stray like I do,” the opening poem offers, “but we were both drawn to scale, / traced by your fingers for a path, / we both fold small for safekeeping.” Throughout, there is almost a kind of American Gothic articulated through Mountain’s examination of ecological landscape and paced lyric, reveling in swagger and intrigue, and the erotics of storms and of hills. As the opening poem of the second section reads: “lips / licked / wet / enough / to / whisper / we / saw / a / bald / eagle / here / once / remember [.]” Her lyrics are textured, tensile; writing of memory, and landscapes internal and external. “Who mouthed it / last?” she writes in the first sequence, “What solemnity and grace did / they avow? To what am I entitled?”


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