Saturday, October 12, 2013

Disguise and revelation in Caroline Beasley-Baker's poetry collection For LACK of DIAMOND YEARS

I read through these short poems a couple times and slyly, through the layers of her forms in this varied collection, I began to get meanings. Form is something Beasley-Baker enjoys and her free-verse employs counting forms Haiku and the Elfchen, minimalist versions of John Cage’s mesostic forms, as well as poems based on colors and that borrow from traditional American songs. (According to Wikopedia an Elfchen is “an 11 word poem in a specific format” and a mesostic poem is “such that a vertical phrase intersects lines of horizontal text.”) 

Many of these poems have a weight of the past and its tension with a present that challenges or threatens to erase it. There are sweet children’s songs that jar with adult perceptions. In one poem a bride is left at the altar and she cries, when the groom refers to 27 cans of peaches—feeling the loss of “errant desire.”  Leonora Carrington was a singular surrealist painter and poet and Beasley is also a painter. There is something about the feel of her poems, the play of disguise and revelation, that remind me of Carrington’s imagery in her paintings. Both have a subtext of cosmic loss.  

Here are two poems from LACK OF DIAMONDS that resonated with me. But the collection is so rich and varied, others might equally appeal at another time.

dead/yet still our neurons fire back hello
i don’t know a lot about death —
not a promising start for a poem. i do know
when my father died his pendulum clock
did stop on the odd minute — twelve/twenty-seven
— and i found meaning and comfort in that ceasing
moment — in that . . . what?
                    the breath
between living and my imagining

of . . . what? and — as the years pass — i do know my sympathy
for who he was accumulates —
i consider his pain as i grow into him year by year
                    . . . i reinvent his promise
— mend all that was broken.

repair/the prodigal self
do you remember?
he’s just left you — no last minute reprieve.
there you are in Sausalito —
in the middle of the restaurant parking lot —
sitting on your suitcase ­— crying:

a 20-year-old’s respectable
                    sturm und drang . . .

          what could he be thinking?

i reach through my memory and touch you —
blond girl in your short/short dress ­— those ex-pensive shoes . . .
          look at us now.

here we are —
busy codifying all of that heartbreak/joy —
skirting order and the drift of words.
i know you can see — his way-too-blue eyes/
that cleft chin can’t disguise his feckless nature.

have you even one thing of worth in common?

you almost know you can’t re-make his mind —
be gracious —
          his gut (if not his head) is clear:

return the ring/let him go . . .
wear that yellow dress you have tucked away.