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The "beginning" initiates the litany that plays in the head of the reader: "And then what happened? And then what happened? And then what happened?" The ending, traditionally, provides the summary answer, "It was this. All along, when you didn't know where you were going, it was this you were sailing towards."
And the middle? Do we, in this disjunctive twenty-first century of headline beginnings and speed-read endings, need middles anymore? Or are we ready to say, "Yes, Aristotle, there can be pleasure without 'complete and unified action with a beginning, middle and end linked by mimetic necessity and probable cause'"?
Jenny Boully has done it. Just as in her debut book, The Body (2002), where she used footnotes beneath blank pages to speak back and forth to the missing poetic text, Boully is writing work that asks us to consider "to reconsider" what it means to be a reader. What it means to reenter, in our own day, the "body" of literature. And she places within that body the body of the writer, a living, breathing, loving speaker who knows a great deal about desire and desire's embodiment. That speaker, whatever the evolving form of the text, knows that endings echo the cessation of desire, the cessation of knowing, the repudiation of youth, the dissolution of fragrance, the loss of songs, sangrias, summer, whatever shimmers and sparkles and the end of whatever it is that suggests, as Boully puts it, "The coded, holy words embedded in sacred tress and your ear against sycamore bark, listening." What else is literature, but that?
Boully's work combines the unapologetically romantic with the quirky factoids of contemporary life (star charts and decoder rings; orchids and eggs over-easy). She uses form in a way that undercuts our every expectation based on previous encounters with poetry. "I too" she writes, "have a scissors aimed at the sky: I too will slice open the belly of a great heaving." Believe it.
—Mary Jo Bang
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WERE many signs that things would end soon: the beings living within the ceiling, the relentless infestation of flies, the clogged plumbing. Always, too soon, the rotting fruit would have to be thrown out. I wanted a hero who would appear with the budding branches of flowering trees. Perhaps it was me who always asked for too much. I wanted the down comforter, the luxury infinite thread count sheets. But the flies continued to come, all through winter. And the squirrel continued to plan, irregardless of our lives. In case of an emergency, I saved one soup can. In the beginning, there were many signs that things would end soon: the slanting windows, the cracked skylight, the appearance of a startled bird. When I forgot (twice!) about the pot on the stove, boiling water, and returned home hours later to find melted metal, flumes of metallic ash, perhaps I meant to burn the whole thing down. I hate the plant in the kitchen and the one in the living room too. They're so ugly and somehow survive, despite my not watering. I dreamt of a hero that would appear with the branches of something flowering. In the beginning, there were many signs that things would end soon: the freezer that would forever need defrosting, the toilet ill-placed, the difficulty of walking up stairs in pitch dark. I wanted you; I wanted you forever and ever and still do. I find it difficult to separate those things I love from those things I hate and don't know why–no matter the beauty of the orchids and tulips by our dinner plates–I keep blaming you. And this morning, how lovely were our eggs over-easy, and how sweet our coffee and how devastating the squirrel that fell into our lives through the skylight. I
instead of begloom, when real happiness, with real bliss, when I point to a sunset and say something about awe. I know the forest creatures are in hiding from some great, unknown terror, a creature which is, in actuality, a mere shadow. I too go into hiding at the suggestion of darkness. (Do you know what happens before arriving here?) The strangeness of animals that know only light and dark, sleeping and waking. The hand that cuts you free from the cloth is not necessarily the hand that sews you back in. I too have a scissors aimed at the sky; I too will slice open the belly of a great heaving.
from He Wrote in Code
When I am with you, I feel the intensity of an unknown something, you said before pushing me, on the swing, up into the sky again.
Pregnancy flashes, a keen knife parting the silently tremulous waters.
I am too often pregnant in my dreams and it does bother me somewhat that I refuse delivery when it needs to happen, claiming that I can't have my baby because I won't be pregnant anymore and that is where the emptiness begins.
Today, I saw a little girl in a little pink dress who couldn't be older than two, and I thought of how nothing could be more fleeting, more precious, more joyous than her not knowing how, running beneath the cherry trees, she was all lightness, all reverie.
The waiter, confused by our choices–2 Sprites, 2 Cokes, 2 coffees, 2 waters, and 2 beers–was even more perplexed by how he might place all the beverages, along with the pizza, on the table-for-two.
We simply wanted everything, but really, it was because we did not know, had a difficult time knowing what it was that we wanted; it was because it would also take us so long to be sure that we wanted what it really was that we wanted; more difficult, we questioned our motives for wanting whatever it was that we wanted. And so, we consumed quietly; we consumed quietly while New York busily tried to sell us flowers, which of course, you refused to buy me.
By the outside diners, the brunch-eaters, you kissed me; you made frequent and over-demonstrated attention to your boner. A slight sadness, realizing that I did finally throw those shoes out.
In the western, the villain tells the vixen, Pretend it's all make-believe.
On the pizza, you ordered bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, crushed red pepper; the waiter asked, Are you going to be alright?
The hastened ordering, the regretted choices, the finality of what is officially given, the handing over, forever, of whatever it was that was so precious to you.
I suppose. I do.
In the bar called My Lady's, we danced to an old country ballad. It was about a woman, whose heart was held in her mouth, and the song was ending and I did not want
Two sangrias, two coffees, two Sprites, two waters, something to set us to rights again. A bit of bacon, something with syrup, a small tart raspberry. Powered sugar. Something in the kitchen breaking. But it is not, after all, that summer anymore.
Pretend it's all make-believe.
Suggested things, suspected things. The coded, holy words embedded in sacred trees and your ear against sycamore bark, listening.
In the morning, I listened to the icy lows of cows. The sunlight flickering off the frost like a whiteness, a white eyelet sheet over the mountains, over the window, over the bedroom. A thousand eyes peeping through. A thousand spies shivering, recording.
For me, pregnancy is a thought that is blue-green, something that shimmers and sparkles and is found only entangled deep in sea, caught in deadly anemones, clutching sea grass.
In Texas, alone, back on the farm, I realize how my family's chicken eggs are baby blue, sea green, speckled brown, umber, a light wash of brown, a suggested dream in blue with a spatter of bluer stars, crème, candle light, but not white, never white.
Strange Mechanism for a Dream
The decoder ring spelled out forbearance. If I wanted this, then I wanted this last week. Doctors have a way of making you believe that everything will be okay; thus, doctors have a way of making you love them. In the dream, the doctor held the instrument that listens to life against my heart. I sent a telegraph to a cloud and out came a thousand souls. The telegraph said: forebear. You may not know this, because you probably have never had to know, but I know it because whatever it is that I am doing, I am always interested in something else. (When you dream of a telegraph, it means that you are not about to receive, but will deliver an important message soon.) When a star "dies," it still exists; it is only said to "die" because it no longer gives light. So too do I wonder about our living selves: do we begin then, sometime, much later, to give off light? The star still exists; some stars, such as quasars and pulsars will continue to give off signals, such colossal amplitudes of last life, a life line showing up on no screen, continuously beeping for a celestial doctor who does not come. Some "dead" stars, like black holes, we know exist simply because of the behavior of other bodies around them; their gravitational forces continue to attract whatever happens to live near enough to be propelled closer to them. (So too do I behave in such a way that suggests that someone I loved once still exists?) What the unsuspecting body does not know: once there is a pull of attraction, there is no departing, no leaving, and thus one gets crushed into a cesspool so astoundingly dark and heavy that not even light can escape. The star chart spelled out forbearance. In the dream, there was an astrolabe that continued to point the way. (Strange that in dreams there exist some machines that cannot be, or would not be, used while we are our wakeful selves.) I used a strange mechanism,
* * *
It really felt that way. In the nosegay, a few sprigs of lily-of-the-valley, Greek roses, and (oh!) lilac. When she turned around, she turned around as if to say help. When she turned around, she turned around as if she hoped to see the old creek instead of the city streets behind her. Nothing held life for long; therefore, nothing and no one could be of assistance: not the gentleman, not the vicar, not the postman, not the carriage, and certainly not the letters. Already, the wiltings of the day: her hair undone, her dress unkempt, her flowers being to droop as old beggar women do, the sun setting, the church bells all in a confusion of lateday ringings.
The Babypowder-Blue Hydrangea
And yesterday, with the weather finally so lovely, the babypowder-blue hydrangea fitting so perfectly the terra-cotta pot, which up till yesterday, had suffered sorely the mishaps of too-long winter. (The blackened branches, the brambles of last summer's flora exhaustions resembled a crooked caging to some sinister shelter in the woods, where alas, either children or princesses venture to die.) On the stoop now, a lovely blue blooming, a bumblebee that will not cease.
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