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.