Life on Mars
As a giant nerd, I absolutely love the science fictional elements in these poems. The cover, a Hubble close up of the Cone Nebula, is a great fit for poems that reference engineering, space travel, interstellar distance, and old sci-fi movies. I loved "My God, It's Full of Stars," for its pop culture references, and "The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack," for the delight in the movement and beauty of the universe. Lines like:
What must be voices bob up, then drop, like metal shavings
In molasses. So much for us. So much for the flags we bored
Into planets dry as chalk, for the tin cans we filled with fire
And rode like cowboys into all we tried to tame.
Are gorgeous read out loud, and carry the breadth of the massive, nameless feelings these poems evoked in me.
In fact, the unknowingness of the world, in blunt contrast to the sharp, shining edge of scientific certainty, was the most appealing thing I found in these poems. "The Largeness We Can't See" made me feel something profound as the bottom of the ocean:
It's solid, yet permeable, like a mood.
Like God, it has no face. Like lust,
It flickers on without a prick of guilt.
We move in and out of rooms, leaving
Our dust, our voices pooled on sills.
We hurry from door to door in a downpour
Of days. Old trees inch up, their trunks thick
With new rings. All that we see grows
Into the ground. And all we live blind to
Leans it's deathless heft to our ears
"At Some Point, They'll Want to Know What It Was Like," is another that I love for it's impenetrable obscurity. I can't describe the feeling I feel when I read it; if I could describe it, I would have written the poem. Life on Mars rewards re-reading, and close reading, and meditating on the poem--it was perfect for a morning read as my coffee percolated, a poem at a time to think about.
These poems are huge, galaxy wide, but also heavy. Full of pain and grief and sweetness so sharp it hurts. In fact, my favorite poem in this book is "Sacrament:"
The women all sing when the pain is too much. But first there is a deep despairing silence. I don't know what rocks in them, what wants
To knock them clear. Not just the child,
Who knows only to obey. This something
Takes them from chatter, to a silly dance,
Down to all fours begging to die. Then
It drags them up by the hair, or lays them out flat
And strikes them on the head. Then they see it,
So bright it should be death, commanding now.
And again, after a pause. Now. Nothing else
Is there between it and them. It burns the air,
Singes sound. Their voices sink deep into themselves, Down through flesh into the body's own hell. Sometimes It takes forever for that song only the animals know To climb back up into air as if to burst the throat.
I'm hoping that in 2020 the thing that seems so bright it should be death turns out instead to be labor pains. I'm hoping we're holding vigil for a birth and not something else.