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 AGNI—I 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.’