I continue to think of Orion as being one of the best ‘full magazine’ reads out there, from editorial content to expository pieces, letters, book reviews. A bold cover this month, too.
Wilkins’ piece, part of the May/June installment, is largely unremarkable; what wants investigation, then, is what the poem skirts—that’s had me on the verge of both completing and refusing to complete a blog about it. Very briefly: the anaphoric structure (really, the entire core of the poem) never pays off, and is responsible for some telegraphed lows (the ‘dung’/’dust’ bit especially); the pathos of these dark, itinerant figures cannot expand on Emma Lazarus’ work in “The New Colossus,” and is almost completely in its debt for any lingering effect; its philosophy (‘the lost tongue of the first lovers’; ‘the idea of the sugar drawer’) is neither charged enough, nor put beautifully or originally enough, to convince a reader that this exodus is after an Egypt.
This leaves me with the ‘God’ apostrophes that build toward Wilkins’ final move in the poem, and the subordinate clause ‘who grow wings and walk still’ in line sixteen—these moments are tethers, though I am suspicious of my interest in each.
I stand behind the poignancy of ‘grow[ing] wings and walk[ing] still,’ but cannot place the implication of this move within the margins of the poem. To grow wings seems to house potential for escape, revelation, flown ire, any or all of these—so, what keeps the winged on the ground must be some type of need. But this speaker’s world, introduced by a radio of very minor menace, is not described with any rough-hewn ‘impressiveness’; there is no reason to believe a bird would prefer this kind of road-building, because it’s less rustic than quotidian. One imagines a whiny Mrs. Bennet here, rather than Faulkner’s Lena Grove.
In terms of ‘God,’ the imposition of a figure organizing this world widens the potential scope of what Wilkins is after, and the mind wanders back to Old Testament times. However, without Wilkins’ making anything truly ‘at stake’ in the use of this apostrophe, it seems just as likely that I am sucker for a chipped vocative; the use of ‘God’ is never taken to task until the piece’s obscurantist end.
An end which, to my taste, never pays off. If I could lasso the drossy rush of imaginings (‘with their animal eyes and teeth like sorry stars’) and bunch them into substance enough to warrant a real parcelling of the grammatical balk at “The red eye[‘s] . . .” close, I would—but the speaker’s technique feels a bit sophist. ‘[B]e careful like ours’? like we are? like our people are? what care has the radio shown, or these subjects, in particular? Am I not offered a bit of punctuation to indicate that God is now, maybe, being addressed directly? I’ll truck the dusty road with anyone willing to make me believe their mission of being, and even buy an inscrutable move here or there, but I need warrant.
And that reflection, perhaps, is the call of Wilkins’ piece.