SHARKPACK Poetry Review

An imprint of FATHOMBOOKS.

Ben Purkert’s “Caged Words in a Couple”


Beauty, books say, is symmetry.
Is pressing two of the same

to kiss. Like holding a stone out
over water, then dipping it

in itself. I draw my fingers out
from you & move them toward

your mouth. In my head I say
Go on, & this can refer to time

or space. So I pick. I allow
myself one. I picture a door

with my hand walking through.
Then all my limbs, finally

on the opposite coast. 

One of the most rewarding things about writing and editing for SPR is unpacking, with each post, the composition of one’s preferences; and realizing, in that limning, how impossibly divorced such preferences are from defining the content of what makes a poem great.

What green-blackness, black-greenness, steel-blackness lives at the horizons of conceiving poetry’s gestalt. How sub-marine is great poetry, even when one loves it.

Thus in Purkert’s “Caged Words in a Couple”—published in issue 78 of AGNII recognize the whirr of wheels that please me: the delicacy with which an ultimately visceral romantic moment is navigated (consider how base and obvious ‘I draw my fingers out/from you’ might have become); utilization of scale to effect (book leaves become stone and lake; the expanse of thinking become finite action; hands enter, limbs exit); and, finally, a steady diet of monosyllables.

But to seek what transforms an essentially straightforward rumination (though the images are fresh-ish, Purkert’s ‘symmetrical’ query is not one of new interest) into a reflection queer enough to be called poem is, for me, the nuclear matter.

The most precious moment in the piece—’pressing two of the same/to kiss’—is not resolved as preciously as the reader expects, since no such ‘kissing’ contact occurs between the I and thou. Instead, every contact assumes a disembodied feel: the speaker appears in control of an exploratory hand (‘I draw my fingers out,’ ‘I picture a door/with my hand walking through’), though the hand is certainly what drives an (asymmetrical) contact with ‘mouth,’ ‘door,’ ‘inside’; the ‘head’s’ admonition to ‘Go on‘ implies a further division between touching and thinking selves. That ‘the opposite coast’ has become a destination for limbs alone reveals not the symmetry, but the essential specular murkiness in Purkert’s earlier image of a stone ‘dipping . . . in itself.’

And upon entrance into such a brume, a backwards look reveals the title, the tone of ‘books say,’ and the imposition of the ampersand to be at least one-half critique—perhaps even a celebration of bifurcation.

Quite black-green at the edges, this. And a lovely-weird close, isn’t it—’Then all my limbs, finally//on the opposite coast.’

10 responses to “Ben Purkert’s “Caged Words in a Couple””

  1. As usual, Spece, you bring a dimension to the poem I didn’t see. Love ‘essential specular murkiness.’ WOn’t look at my foggy bathroom mirror after a shower the same.

  2. As if on the other side of poem’s start, those limbs.

    What makes ye of the ‘caging’?

    1. Good question, E. I suppose I see the idea of ‘caging’ as another jab at the symmetrical: the cage makes a mirror, men of very different comport on each side, though they appear the same. It could go maudlin, however (e.g., words are symmetrically ‘said’ but not understood)—what were you thinking?

      1. I’m staring dead on at that–

        ‘I picture a door
        with my hand walking through.’

        And am thinking of the silence specifically summoned with ‘in my head I say go on’. A restraint of out-loud words. This ‘allowance’ of one or the other (time or space) – control, again again again.

        Dunno, I draw heavy pre-sex out of this– mostly the fingers from within the ‘you’ towards that same ‘you”s mouth, just after dipping that rock in the lake? It’s trembling and toyed-with, body-close. Caged, maybe. Like those long quiet scenes in Asian flicks where then tension is in the stillness of movement.

        Feels like an approach to me, the hand moving up towards the ‘you’, followed by ‘all my limbs’ on the opposite shore, atop or aground the body..

        So for caging, caged words in a couple, I lean into unspoken moment, the silent approach of a consensual and concentrated lover.

  3. I must say the shifting position of the speaker in this poem sits uneasy with me. I’m pleased with the lines that are a direct address from the speaker to the reader, or rather, the images in the mind of the speaker that the reader eavesdrops upon. But the speaker’s address to the lover (“you”) ruptures what I feel this poem was in the midst of achieving, not because of the content revealed (“I draw my fingers out / from you”) but because of the the shift in the speaker’s position in relationship to both lover and reader. The fast zoom in and then immediate zoom back out is troublesome.

    Still, “Like holding a stone out /over water, then dipping it / in itself” is impressive.

    1. KDG, what did you think the poem ‘was in the midst of achieving’ that was lost with that shift of address?

      1. The poem was in the midst of achieving an ethereal and introspective moment. For my taste, I wanted to stay in that moment, rather than be rent from it.

  4. I see, Gleason. I suppose I don’t see that ‘introspective moment’ being as fruitful as you do—I’m not sure what the speaker could’ve done with symmetry given more poetic space, as his thinking was already close to going wrong (trite). The piece had to turn outward to become something.

    I’m thinking now of your Soddy-Daisy swagga reading “The Emperor of Ice Cream.”

    1. That Soddy-Daisy swagga is all about turning outward, so you’ve got me there. 😉

  5. Stephanie Rose Adams Avatar
    Stephanie Rose Adams

    I really responded to this meditation from Westerlind: “I lean into unspoken moment, the silent approach of a consensual and concentrated lover” and I believe I love its significance more than the poem itself—and Spece, your writing and musing on the piece is as lovely as can be, and almost brings me to liking the poem because I see your reflection in preference for it, but in considering the unpacking of “the composition of one’s preferences”, my own, I see it is complete green-blackness I respond to most, specifically of the organic ilk, and if there is to be sex then it better have moss in the spaces between. . . Still, this post brought so much richness to my thinking about my own preferences and reminds me how much I enjoy Sharkpack and her mission, and the intimacy she kindles between readers and poems.

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