“Every accuracy has to be invented,” Anne Carson has said of the effort to translate inner experience into language. In Meg Freitag’s twisted love poems, this paradox is a spell cast and already come true. Here, domestic interiors—of desire and dismay, adoration and rejection—collide with the material world as metabolized by a keenly raw, ruefully honest, mystically precise imagination. Strangeness of feeling infects the familiar. Ecstatic figuration transforms the unfolding of thought thinking thought, of body knowing experience.
In these poems, accuracies of emotion are invented by the fling and anchor of image, metaphor, and simile, by boldness of juxtaposition and intimacy of address. Accuracies of image, metaphor, simile, juxtaposition, and address are invented by the emotions coursing beneath their surfaces. Line, stanza, and syntax invent accuracies particular to poetry: perception is revealed as an act of translation, articulation as a means of transformation; language veers alchemical.
Nervous systems automatic and sympathetic fire in the body of this work: upon measured reflection, in a fit of pique or pleasure, we may choose to hold our breath or something may catch it, but always its inevitable bellowed pulse precedes and follows our slowest sighs and our most abrupt gasps, and there is nothing much to do about our beating hearts.
“I made up ice bats, there is no such thing,” Carson says, but of course there is, or, there is now. This third place—between (both) real and unreal, given and taken, held and dispersed—is the zone Freitag’s work inhabits, the here that is possible only in, by, and through poems.
A Relationship in Chiarascuro
When I loved him it felt like light
Coming out of my skin. I don’t mean this
In a good way. It was a light that didn’t belong
To me. It got into me somehow and needed
To get out: rat teeth of light, needle-nosed
Pliers of light, sawed-off shotguns
Of light, light with its axe and shovel
And precarious notions of basic human
Rights. We went to a party and I watched him
All night from across the room, like a snake
With its eye on a prairie dog’s
Hole. He was drinking a silty microbrew,
Talking to a girl with breasts on display
Like the ducks in the windows
Of Chinatown restaurants. No one talks
About how crazy snakes must feel, all suddenly
Hating each others’ guts whenever
Dinnertime roles around. Hunger as a lifestyle.
Edith, we don’t get to choose what we most want
To put our mouths around. How did I have
The particular misfortune of loving
The handsomest man in the room? Caravaggio
Prepared his canvases with the powder of dried fireflies,
He told me once, as he peeled the green jewel
From the abdomen of a lightning bug
And stuck it on my ring finger, in a style perhaps best
Described as proposal-casual. You could have seen me
From heaven then, I glowed so hard
And high, like a star that just didn’t feel like being
Around other stars. But like any creature divorced
From its kind, I could only last so long that way. In the grass
Was the discarded part of the bug, a bit of black
Life wriggling out of him still. Do you remember, Edith,
When a guy sacrificing an animal for you
Still really meant something? When the sky started
Purpling, a despair sat down beside us and we both
Picked up our phones, stared into their luminescent
Screens like we were looking into Magic 8 Balls,
Thinking, each for our own reasons: there has to be
Something more than this. I wanted him to take me
To Houston to see the Rothko Chapel, I wanted him
To meet my grandparents, to bring him along
To church with us, introduce him to the priest.
Lately I’ve been reading Wikipedia pages,
Trying to figure out where I got it wrong. I read that
For a week at the beginning of June, the fireflies
Of Elkmont, Tennessee, all blink
In unison. And apparently men are fifty percent
Less likely to become aroused after sniffing
A dish of female tears. When I found the texts
He’d been sending to another girl, I stood on the edge
Of the bathtub in the windowless dark and shrieked
A couple years’ worth of shrieks.
I’d been shoring them up, knowing this day
Would come. I was glad to have them, then.
God, Edith, it felt so good to make such an ugly sound.
Two Hatchlings at the End of the World
I’ve encountered love as a dog
Encounters a trash bag
Full of cooked chicken bones.
In the beginning: abundant
As the stars above the places where our wheat
Is scythed, where our meat
Is fattened up. Last night the blood
Moon was noisy as a helicopter against my rear
Windshield as I drove down the hill
To his apartment. The glass could hardly keep it all
On the other side and it felt like any second
I could be crushed, like the scene in Raiders
Of the Lost Ark where Harrison Ford is running
From the rolling boulder, the little gold
Idol everyone wants so bad
Banging in its canvas sack
Against his leg. You know the scene
I’m talking about, Edith—we watched it, you
From the closet, as you gnawed on a wooden
Clothes hanger, me from the sofa
As I ate nacho cheese Doritos
That stained my fingertips orange. I hate feeling
Like a dung beetle, carrying up to ten times
My own weight in shit and calling it
Food. On the Internet people argue
About whether or not this lunar eclipse
Means the end of times. But we sleep through
The moon’s disappearance, so well, like we’re baby animals
Full of milk. In a fable, the eagle kills
A hare and the dung beetle, a friend of hares,
Avenges it by destroying the eagle’s eggs.
He does this again and again. Harrison Ford loses
The idol to a rival archaeologist, but by the end
It doesn’t even really matter. Other things
Become more important. The eagle wises up
And places her latest eggs
In Zeus’s lap, where they are so safe they won’t break
Even to hatch. This is what we see
When we think we are looking at stars: eagles
In their little eggshell prisons, frozen
In time. The dung beetle is the only insect
Known to orient himself in the dark using
The Milky Way. In the morning the coffee
Maker gurgles and pops, like a living
Thing. The moon drains its blood
Into an ocean on the other side of the world.
Edith, sweet girl, you’ve been delivered
Back to your shell. You’re safe there.
He and I, we eat toast.
Promenade à Deux
We began by two-stepping barefoot
In the kitchen. I looked into his face like a farmer
Looks into a horse’s mouth, trying to conjure
The future from the now. His hands
Were two small animals beneath my blouse, soft
And frantic. Long ago the clouds
In their white gowns still rode their white mares
Sidesaddle across the manageable sky
And everyone I loved was incidentally
Still alive. When I was eight, I put my last quarter
In a gumball machine at the video rental place
And no gumball came out. I can’t say I grieve
The quarter, exactly, but the distance I saw
Chasming between the beginning and the end
Of a desire. That night, as he was leaving,
He touched my braid like it was something that hurt me.
I can’t stand the way men touch
Gently after knowing they’ve wounded you.
This morning I woke up to two scorpions
That had fucked themselves
Right into a glue trap. Still, they went at it.
A scorpion can live for up to twelve months
Without food or water. I watched them as I drank
My coffee, as I sliced and ate a peach. So, this is loneliness:
Two scorpions fucking each other to death in a glue trap
And no one to share it with.
Notes on Longing from the Overworld
I go downstairs and make breakfast
Like always, like a plastic swimming frog
Wound all the way up and then let go. A light bulb
In the refrigerator burned out, an expired jar
Of marmalade soaking in the sink. The passage of time
Is the underside of a die, a swan dipping its head
Beneath the meniscus of algae that obscures
The filthy lake. In the underworld,
Persephone ate seven pomegranate seeds
From a marble table and her fate was sealed.
If she ever loved Hades it was only because
She ran out of other things to feel. Working
As a soda jerk one high school summer,
I came to loathe the smell of ice cream. I’d swim
In the ocean every evening with my clothes on,
Just to get it off me. Now, grinding beans
For coffee, everything feels for a moment
Like it’s as it always was. The dog
Crunches her kibble, a leaf blower
Down the block starts up, stops, starts up again.
Longing hides beneath these sounds like a shadow
Hides beneath a fallen leaf. Sometimes
It seems absolutely insane to think that
Edith isn’t just in the other room,
Perched in the closet, shitting all over
My one nice coat. To think I will not sleep
In my small bed with him one more time.
Something you can see so clearly now that it’s past,
Shouldn’t you be able to undo?
How quiet all our lives together must seem
When viewed from a great enough
Height. How can anyone have meant
What they said that one night, vodka-drunk
And having left their house keys
In the backseat of a taxicab? How peaceful
We would have looked in sleep,
To a casual observer. Like watching from a boat
Two dolphins caught in the same tuna net.