“touching is resistance”
I come at this book through tears, in my own upheaval, selfishly unable to think about anything else. Quarry reflects back: “the thing is you can’t stop reaching or you will be boring.” Trash flurries through the poems, through my life, but pebbles are grounding and tactile: “i would like to be the answer to something.”
This book transitions, is in transition, comes through transition. It describes a state of tension, of anxiety, of becoming. Lines blur between person and place: this pond was a quarry, was excavated from a prior landscape. The discussion of body, of bodily changes is amorphous, we begin with bois and bodies colliding, moments of aloneness and of intimacy, until finally lying on the surgical bed where “it was the surgeon who crossed me out. who drew a slash through me.” Under the surgeon’s lamp there is embodiment and metaphor, clarity and confusion. An entirely compelling tonal shift.
Place and state of mind are tumultuous. Ecosystems evolve, naturally. In “Quarry: excavation” we learn that what was manmade – the quarry – becomes nature, a protected wetlands. The body needs protection, too, on the subway, in a crowd, checking email, at a bar, sometimes while reading.
I read this book with my own recent experiences (a breakup, a trans-Atlantic move, a botched medical procedure) resonating the way that nails on the chalkboard are resonant. Not the same, but the language is language I have also been writing. A choice. A change. “was it botched?” Do uncertainty and recovery always hold hands? “let’s not deal with memories.” Don’t we all need protection sometimes?
These poems relate. Quarry and swimming hole, bois, lovers, stones and pebbles, patient and surgeon. I opened to the pages that opened me: I cry a lot. “i can’t recall if we really stared at each other contented-like or it was just your face in that moment that pinned me, like a soft black cloud settling” is the sum of me right now, and isn’t one of the purposes of poetry to find the words for the moment or the poet that lacks them?
The spewing trash reminded me of Robert Kroetsch’s writer as archaeologist digging through layers of refuse to build a picture: what we keep, what we use, what we throw away becomes the subject. Quarry does that, thrusts horse bones and garbage and unwanted clothes into focus. I recall a Kroetsch poem that has a landfill in it, maybe the garbage was spilling, I seem to think there was a baseball diamond, but I don’t have my books. I waste a lot of time googling and failing to find the poem, I am a rusty academic, sorry, it doesn’t matter what the poem was, the point I am trying to make is that this book is archaeological. It unearths.
I return to the Quarry and wonder: who is Cal? Who is Mar? I cannot quite suss these people, their orbits. We are left agape. Mostly it’s complicated. There’s love and dishonesty. “perhaps that’s the point, / to change, / is it?” Relationships change as bodies change as landscapes change. What was dry becomes wetland, what was soft becomes stone. We are left with holes.
Changing conditions are forecast for the lovers. They weather each other. Sometimes it is alluring and torrential
“containing thunder i hold you, storming”
and sometimes it is resisted,
“we were alone together; / i did not want to be the lightning rod”
and these lines ache, like really ouch, and that’s where this book gets it, these euphoric and brooding magnetisms. Forces beyond personal control, systems we are subject to. “now that we are getting older it is impossible to know everything about someone.” Love and the weather. The surgeon, who may or may not have done his best.
But, in “flesh of my flesh” recognition surfaces with the line “i chose this.” The self asserts responsibility, and also bravery, presence in the process of changes: “i have a new body that someone is going to look at for the first time. cal is going to be the first person. i got to make this decision; for him to take it all in, the bumps and scars and the general unmooring. passing a lifetime of looking and judgment.”
Quarry is full of hard minerals, of stones, of pebbles. It chips away. A pebble is a stone you can take with you, a souvenir. Bodies and ecosystems cannot fail to leave traces of themselves; they alter things. These minerals hint at the skeleton beneath flesh, “the body is only a vase for holding." The book a body, the book bringing us alongside the body, witnessing body in relation, in environment, in flux. The book a body for holding.
This poetry chafes, uncomfortable and familiar. Do we know ourselves and can we know others, even if we want to?