To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic - Review by Claire Caldwell
BookThug - 2017 - $18
When I started this review of Leanne Dunic’s To Love the Coming End, Hurricane Harvey was spilling its guts over Houston. Then Hurricane Irma charged across the Caribbean and into Florida, and the images of wild destruction mingled in my Twitter feed with book releases, a pregnancy announcement, GoFundMe campaigns for non-weather-related causes. And I thought, “How am I supposed to write about poetry?”
Dunic wrestles with a similar unease in this collection, which is made up of untitled prose poems that are thematically and narratively linked. “Nothing is anchored[,]” the speaker declares. “Today is unstable, easy for people and land to split.” There is a literal meaning here, as the poems shift between the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the speaker’s grief over the loss of a loved one. But I think Dunic is referring to another kind of “gaping crevice”: the internal rift caused by the strangeness, the wrongness, of continuing to live in the world in the wake of disaster—whether individual or global in scale.
For Dunic’s speaker, this conflict is a physical ailment. The speaker “exist[s] without basic order,” listing symptoms like, “No cocaine, but heart palpitations. / Jaw is fixed. / Walk, toes curled. / Denude cells like a mountainside.” Yet the very act of creating this inventory suggests an attempt at seeking or restoring that basic order. Experts are called in, and even their opinions are split: “Dentist: Do you wear your mouth guard every night? Doctor: These ailments—stress. […] Counsellor: Not stressed, sad. Heart: The work is too much.”
To Love the Coming End vibrates with this tension between the urge to seek order and meaning amid chaos and the inevitable failure of this pursuit. Near the beginning of the book, the speaker imagines the establishing shots of a film about Japan, with “Carnelian and rust-coloured maples fram[ing] a restive volcano, exceptionally symmetrical.” Later, these gorgeous, pastoral images lead into devastating scenes from the tsunami. And still, “This is impossible to document.”
The book itself seems structured after this contradiction. The poems are tight little paragraphs, suggesting restraint, self-containment. But they float in the middle of each page like debris in floodwater, shifting abruptly between memories, sensations, facts about natural disasters.
One of the most intriguing ways Dunic’s speaker tries to find meaning in the midst of catastrophe is through superstition. The “curse of 11” haunts the speaker, who sees the number everywhere (the tsunami hit on March 11, 2011). Eleven seems to represent the lost relationship, too: “Does anybody else wonder,” the speaker asks, “what happens to an eleven that loses a one? Is it still eleven?” Even as this number and other portents link the poems and the speaker’s experiences, they imbue the collection with a sense of dread and futility. “I have no references to validate my existence,” the speaker remarks. “I pray to other gods, talk to you, think of new superstitions.” And later, “The theme park is deserted. Is this symbolic?”
Dunic’s speaker sees signs everywhere—but they don’t necessarily add up, or patterns only emerge in retrospect. That’s the heartbreaking lesson of the ghosts, fortune-tellers and Merlions in this collection: disaster always takes us by surprise.
“I’m sorry I suffer the loss of one,” Dunic writes, “when, at every moment, a breath is another’s last. Memory is the only relationship we can have with the dead. I’m sorry.” The grief is so sharp in this collection, it’s difficult to heed the title’s imperative—to “love” an impending loss or calamity. There seems little to be hopeful for in its aftermath, either. Around the edges of the speaker’s heartsickness, though, there’s a buzz of creativity: the imagined film about Japan, a presentation at a literary festival, a “next book” in the works. “Loss is a hard time to catch,” Dunic’s speaker admits. But there’s beauty, and hope, in the attempt.