Pushcart 2015: Sina Queyras, “Like A Jet” (Poem) from Malahat Review, #184

Art by Ziba Scott: "Making ‘Elegy For A Dead World'"

Art by Ziba Scott: “Making ‘Elegy For A Dead World'”

1
A hole in the sky where softness hung,
A crater where the world was, a moment
The size of Manhattan: amazed
We are not all sliding in.

So many elegies. I’m not sure if that’s because elegies were the form to write in 2012, or if death was on the minds of the editors as they chose. This one is available online.

It appears in Queyras’ sixth collection, M x T. The title is not a cryptic abbreviation but a mathematical expression: Memory * Time. The collection “meditates on the nature of grief marked indelibly by modernity and technology”, writes Julie Enszer in a detailed and quite lovely review for The Rumpus.

4
Time, they say, time, and with it healing but also
Recrimination and upset, my tumourette an airbag
Behind my eyes, blind me, my lack of patience:
Why is my exuberance rewarded? Hers snuffed?

The poem appears as a series of eight numbered sonnets, beginning with a grief so overwhelming it’s almost visible on the page, as the opening quatrain above shows. “The body is leaking fluid; I am leaking, / I no longer care who sees me leak” that sonnet concludes, and I see so many possible references in that – tears flowing out. Because of that leaking, I’d briefly wondered if the death was of a newborn, a miscarriage perhaps, then later changed my mind. Whoever the topic, it’s an extremely intense portrait of grief; I’m not sure I could read it if I had just lost someone I loved. There’s a hint of a problematic relationship (“finally / She could not scowl me away”), and a sense of deep, ubiquitous loss (“Every last vein crammed with absence”).

Poetic references abound, and I’m not able to scan them all. Eliot’s jet? The only connection between TS Eliot and a jet is in some discarded lines from Prufrock that include reference to a gas jet. “Jet” is one of those ambiguous words, and interpretation depends on the reader’s generation and background: sophisticated travel, technology from the 19th century, an ancient gemstone. Perhaps Eliot’s quote about evil and good intentions surfaces, indicating further relational disruption. The poem begins with a sensual Whitman epigraph, and includes a line from Plath and mention of Sexton, but I’m over my head here.

In the space between the fifth and sixth sonnet, the world appears to begin turning again as the speaker looks forward:

(5)
                    …No more death
Please: bite hard, I want to feel the future coming.
 
6
I felt something snap just now. It wasn’t you parting
Your body – it’s months after that, as if all this time
Grief has been spinning our heels and now we slow, steady,
Let it nestle into a fold with the lost coins and lint.

That is how it works with great loss, isn’t it. At first it’s unbearable, but we do find a way to bear it, and it becomes part of our landscape until eventually we can talk about it, even write about it. Grief follows the form of elegy, which may be, I wonder, how the elegiac form arose. No matter how great the loss, if we are to go on, we find a way to incorporate the loss, to wear it, carry it with us, rather than to sit in its space.

Who will sort the apples? Leonard. Leonard will sort the
Apples. Frederick will drive the car. Jack will feel for you.
Describing is owning. Give me a woman with a lens
In her hand. Give me a woman with a will to read.
 
Give a woman a lost woman, an open vista, a stack of vellum,
Give me Time, give me swagger, give me your ears.

Love, loss, grief, life: Memory, multiplied by Time.

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