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  • kjoannerixon

Late Wife

Finishing LATE WIFE I thought: this is ephemeral, I'll forget I ever read it almost immediately. But then I looked back at the pages I'd dog-eared. (I bought this secondhand at a thrift store, and the pages were already creased, so don't think I abuse books! Although, that's a misdirection: I do in fact dog-ear even books I buy new, because it's the nature of good poetry to be re-read, and I want other readers to know which poems I loved and pay special attention to them.) On re-reading, I found some really astoundingly lovely poetry, which I would consider framing if I was the sort of person to actually put art on my walls. And not only that, but I found that the book's structure was more deliberate and meaningful than I had first seen.

So yes, I've dog-eared a lot of the poems in this book. "Atlas" is my favorite-favorite. It exhibits Emerson's strength with poetic structure, delivering vivid images in spiderweb-delicate triplets that carefully, deliberately take every step necessary to deliver you to a soul-rendingly lovely revelation. It's the kind of poem that makes you wish you could be looked at with this poet's gaze, so that you could be truly seen for the first time.


In the museum gift shop at the foot

of Marye's Heights, a lone, slim volume

entitled Orthopaedic Injuries

of the Civil War lay remaindered

at half price, a book many

had handled without wanting to

own. I could not resist, either,

looking inside, compelled by two

photographs, portraits on the cover

of the same formal young man:

in one image, both of his legs

are missing; in the other, he wears

prosthetic limbs, bared for the camera.

In image after image, the book

catalogs particular survivals,

organized by the anatomic

regions of loss: extremities,

upper and lower, thigh, shoulder--

some men are halved and in the next

photograph risen from ether

or chloroform, from opium

and whiskey, to wear inventions

of wood, leather, metal. They had

survived the bullet, the surgeon's knife,

and now this first, rough reconstruction

of the body, to look past the aperture

and into the photographer, wearing

the century's dark caul, then into me.

I bought the book, but not for their

unique disfigurements; it was

their shared expression I wanted--resolve

so sharply formed I cannot believe

they ever met another death.


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