BELOVED INTEGER by Michelle Naka Pierce
(Bootstrap Press / PUB LUSH, Lowell, MA / Pittsburgh, PA, 2007)
There is a delicacy in this project that moves one to admiration, enchantment, desire and various emotions manifested in the sigh. Part of its effectiveness is its presentation. On the first page of the first poem “FIGURE 1.1”, the words
The distance of desire
travels to four corners
of a compass
is made more effective by being superimposed against (or overlaid by) a grid of straight vertical and horizontal lines (like graph paper). Within the grid, two lines intersect along the left side, and such introduces a visual layer that emphasizes the words through a visual contradiction; for while the words are saying desire goes a long way, the intersecting lines -- darker than the rest of the grid lines -- evoke barriers.
It’s a fitting beginning. For BELOVED INTEGER is Michelle Naka Pierce’s side of a correspondence with her partner Chris Pusateri. According to her “Author’s note”, in 2003 Pusateri moved to Seattle while Pierce remained in Boulder. During their separation, they “wrote to each other as a means of cultivating intimacy.” (Pusateri’s companion volume, NORTH OF THERE, is available through Dusie, www.dusie.org.)
But if the project -- like so many poetry projects -- relates to reaching for the Beloved, Pierce makes her version utterly fresh. She accomplishes this by making her approach unexpected as a result of combining intellect with deeply-felt emotion:
“In mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish.” When Freud writes this, I think of a hard drive. I’ve heard that everything is recoverable; an expert could take apart your computer and find that secret letter you deleted last year -- intact. But does memory work the same way? Can an expert come into the sphere of the mind, rummage through the rubble, and pull you out in one piece? It’s unclear if this is really rubbish or a second hand store. I’m starting to forget the little things like the scar on your left -- or is it the right -- thumb?
Socratic questions become increasingly more entertaining, but not so much the central mode of our discourse – which you said was maudlin anyway. I always hear harpsichords and mandolins when you say this. 1400 miles by car isn’t the same by plane. Altitude creats an imbalance in the figures not easily cured by gum.
The words indicate a philosopher’s (or philosophizing) mind. It’s also because of this that the presence of humor is welcome
Boobs look huge in the tight white shirt, low cut bra. Left nipple keeps popping out. No blue veins today. A scar on the left index finger. Internalized conversation or socially justified belief? Akin to thesis. “Procrastination’s like masturbation. In the end, you’re only fucking yourself.” Is there a preoccupation with magic and ritual? She loves Jesus with an H. A ruse. “Intercourse is taboo as a topic and scheduled as an act.” He uses “rumba” as a euphemism for sex. What does this tell us about midnight consumers? “It’s hard to bear a memory like that.”
And again adds to a sense of delicacy -- as if the poet here is writing while balanced on a tight rope, no safety net below. Perhaps I thought of the tightrope because it indicates that Pierce considered her project of “cultivating intimacy” to be very important, and not just an exercise for generating words that would come to form a poetry project. So that while the writing-about-the-writing process reveals itself (e.g. in the above excerpt: “’Intercourse is taboo as a topic …’ He uses ‘rumba’ as a euphemism for sex.”), Pierce truly wants to reach and feel and maintain intimacy, not just write about it.
It’s an impossible project, though, isn’t it to take on what blurb-provider Maureen Owen aptly calls the “translation of absence”? Fragments become logical, the unsaid comes to be a physical presence viz a body in longing, language becomes under suspicion…until, in a rather nifty method, Pierce must lapse to mathematical calculations:
10:37 has no particular feeling. It’s here one minute, gone the next. I slept from 11 to 9, then 10 to 2. My days are like this…a numbers game under the comforter you hate -- 100% down. At a certain point, it’s all about percentages. 40% of the time asleep, 35% at work, unknown percentage actually forgetting that I miss you.
Numbers or percentages -- even as Pierce says (perhaps sheepishly) elsewhere in the book
One cannot calculate the future motion of a detail, only a range of possibilities for the future motion of a relationship.
Ultimately, this project engages because it accepts (vs. merely bemoans) the impossibility of fully articulating the significance of an absent Beloved. It is that acceptance of the inevitable Lack that seeds these fragile text-flowers, engaging you with their vulnerability even as they seek stability from an intellectualized footing. It passes my ultimate test for art’s effectiveness. That is, while reading this book, I was compelled to write anew -- and what was written is a Poem.
Thank you, Michelle Naka Pierce, for sharing.
Eileen Tabios doesn't allow her books to be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects -- but she is ecstatic to point you to recent reviews of her recent book The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes (Marsh Hawk Press, 2007) by Nicholas Manning, by Jesse Glass, and by Burt Kimmelman. Oh, and a review by Laurel Johnson reprinted by Amazon.com, though it's also good to support SPD! Preening is as good as wine for good health!