Michelle Boisseau’s “Among the Gorgons” is another powerful piece from the first issue of Poetry‘s centennial year.
There’s something specially exciting about a Bildungsroman-esque opening to a lyric poem; ‘For seventeen years I was caught in surf’ immediately contrasts to the looming brevity of the piece, suggesting that the reader will experience a lifetime’s narrative (or nearly) in 26 lines. Boisseau’s varied styling of breaks and enjambment in the opening stanza are a fast gambit: the legibility of the first line is quickly broke up, ‘[d]rubbed and scoured,’ and the progress of the poem forecasted.
So much is ‘bodied’ in the speaker’s transformation, where the sea ‘trot[s],’ the galaxy ‘eye[s],’ and fishes ‘flap.’ Though certain moments of physical content (‘the extra bit of wit//a grandma leaves on her chin’) are against my Apollonian, such moves are undeniably important in illustrating the speaker’s fragment. The collage of seascape and society in
[. . .] A galaxy of dimes
eyed my sag and crinkles and dismissed
me like a canceled stamp
widened my eyes a few times. Also jarringly fresh in Boisseau’s rendering of Gorgon is ‘something tugged at me, silver braids/weaving and unweaving themselves’—the metamorphosed is not accounted for so much as it is suggested, and I can feel a new part of the corpus, the two dozen snakes, slither into life, and the new ‘sensing’ that the speaker is suddenly charged with managing.
Appropriately, there is a haze toward the poem’s conclusion: what surety remains is one that moves toward a completely different manner of conception. Volume and depth of path are skewed. A cave first ‘crackle[s],’ and that abstract metaphor is heightened again by the marriage of kindling in a ‘woodstove’ with ‘laughter.’ So that the lavish ‘A landslide opened/a seam of rubies and we stepped in’ challenges a reader to both read the image literally and imagine sites beyond the literal. Is the ‘seam of rubies’ (!!) a break in the earth? a sunset seen at the cave’s terminus? a cleave in space-time? And what implication looms for a formerly young speaker now given a deathly immortality?
Poet and speaker, these are the questions I want to be asked to answer.