Review | Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems, by Beckian Fritz Goldberg
New Issues/Western Michigan University Press, 2010
Even a careful reader lingering at the threshold of Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems, by Beckian Fritz Goldberg, might fail to notice the vaguely oracular and eloquently baffling origami of Goldberg’s allusion to Tacitus by way of her collection’s epigraph from David St. John. Though the words of the ancient Roman historian, which preface the contemporary California poet’s “Elegy” (from which Goldberg also draws her volume’s title), figure only obliquely in Goldberg’s opening scene, the implicit echoing of these two voices raises crucial and enduring questions about human mortality and the fate of the soul after death just inside the doorway of her newest work. In “Tender Midnight Rebel: An Interview with Beckian Fritz Goldberg,” conducted by Charles Jensen and Sarah Vap for Gulf Coast, the poet admits, “I have a God-problem. I do. I don’t know whether I believe in God or not.” But she quickly offers the caveat that death is really the problem: “If I could solve that, I could figure out God. But I am very much obsessed with time and mortality. And I know that’s nothing new, but, it really, really bothers me.” This questioning spirit, the profound skepticism it implies, informs Goldberg’s systematic reverse engineering of our very notions of the human spirit based upon the empirical evidence flesh and blood provide (and God himself must submit to the poet’s relentless interrogations of the eternal through its discernible manifestations in the here and now). If only truth were as easy to come by as her truly wicked polygraph.
As she attempts to discern the precise location and to catalog the definitive attributes of an intractable divinity, Goldberg contrives for the sacred and the profane to rub elbows with delightful regularity. Amid the gender-ambiguous denizens of “Beauty and Truth,” one speaker theorizes that “all gods take form // as their disguise.” Compared to the chimeras and naiads bellied up to Goldberg’s hermeneutical bar, sipping their cosmos, “Clyde McFuck” and “some Trans-Lily, / née Lyle,” (while appreciably human) come across as boring enough to warrant a little good-natured name-calling. In “Twenty-First Century Pastoral,” the poet upends the conventions of a genre as she “hit[s] the clubs” again, in search of new objects upon which to focus her lyric meditations. Trading in bucolic meadows and shepherd boys for “pole-dancers in striped // bikinis” and “a guy / with a cowboy hat,” her outdone observations devolve into what a cynical reader could interpret as a latent, late-breaking attempt at an on-the-fly ars poetica:
That a bad life can be true
to its one pure thing
explains the gods
who are only muses
each of one discipline:
the naughty matchbook,
Like the elusive deity they track, Goldberg’s texts are accessible and refractory all at once. But, whether they’re riffing on a tune from the pop-culture jukebox or dredging up some archetypal image from Buddhist legend, they demand that we proceed inferentially. A confession hinting at the guilty pleasures of watching CSI—“God, / I was a whore for a singing / detective, a Luminol // spray constellating the bed,”—is, in its particulars, offered with no more certitude than a pseudo-recollection of the tale in which the Hindu god Indra, dressed as a beggar, draws out the heavenly generosity in the heart of the common hare (an early incarnation of the Enlightened One himself). According to the legend, Buddha-rabbit immolates himself in order to feed his costumed karmic intercessor. So the speaker of “Shy Girls Waiting for You,” vying for a new spot in the pantheon, completes her internship with a similarly chameleon god, and, after she’s “planted / the little beans that / unfurled like questions,” and helped repave the earth and alter its airwaves, “Bit // by speckle by twang-twang” arrives at a crossroads of cosmic déjà vu:
did I think back,
back like a rabbit on fire
who can’t know what it’s like to be
put out, not at the moment
he is burning.
Partaking of such colorful, multifaceted omniscience, point of view for Goldberg is typically quite labile. Description and commentary emanate from an ostensibly autobiographical center, but this often manifests most completely at the very moment when it (dramatically/rhetorically) self-annihilates. The fused horizons, which delimit the poet’s sense of the other, of history, of religious traditions, or of her own cultural moment, create the paradoxical (and altogether convincing) impression of her all-knowing idiosyncrasy.
In “What Has He Done,” an itinerant goddess, on “sparrow-watch” over the “Sea Breeze / Motel,” perceives how “Someone's jammed / a paper cup in the grip of the flowering vine”; she notes the way “dusk sets off / another round of silly karaoke from the birds”; she’s full of love and fully prepared to offer forgiveness to the multitudes she surveys—to the man “upstairs tranced // by the beam of the Spice Channel on TV” and the woman “pinching the bikini by its black strings from / the black rail of the balcony.” But the drama getting underway down in the pool (“that couple arguing,” cast into such odd relief by the ravishing chiaroscuro of “the garbled blue underlight, / ruff of the footlight pinned to the trunk of a queen palm”) appears to strain divine equanimity. What comes across as rhetorical flourish flowing from the enjambment between two early stanzas (“What's hurt // to love? What's a rock to honey? What's regret?”) veers dangerously toward the concrete here, just a few strophes (and a few drinks?) later:
wailing you, you. At the radium edge,
the half-man in the water puts his finger to
his lips. So no one throws shoes at them.
What has he done. Shh. What—
One must read Goldberg’s italics very carefully to grasp the subtle comedy of who’s doing the shushing here, and to fully appreciate the wit and droll timing of the flip “There’s a man who’s polite in misery” that follows the dash. Even the most voyeuristic gods grow weary with the effort of this much eavesdropping.
Divine monomania notwithstanding, Goldberg’s poems ultimately ground themselves in her keen intellectual considerations of human physicality. Their detailed mappings and measurements of the primal economies of the body—how it acts, how it is acted upon—provide the gravitational center about which her work revolves. Her earliest navigations of poetic form are inextricably linked to her apprehension that the body is the archetypal form, that it “limits us, but also defines us” that it “gives us identity.” Her ruminations, however varied and wide-ranging, rarely fail to incorporate this theme.
The poems representing Goldberg’s debut volume, Body Betrayer, introduce us to the universal mortifier that so durably haunts the poet. Afflicted by disease or cruelty or the ravages of time, human figures shuffle through these poems like an army of the walking wounded. In “Geraniums” we meet Goldberg's octogenarian father-in-law, “blind in one eye, / diabetic, his balance cloudy.” He soldiers on even as he wonders, “Where the hell am I going?” The curious, vaguely sadistic children in “Cutting Worms,” scoop up their own small victims, which writhe across “lantana roots” and “quartz grains like grooved roads.” Maybe it’s this same group of minor delinquents we encounter in “The Children Dream Death” as they realize the vulnerability of their own subconscious minds to the various deformations and dislocations of nightmare. A sleeping girl observes, “The house is familiar but wrong.” A sleeping boy sees and hears the devil, “red tail crooked with the poise / of a phonograph arm,” hissing, “If you tell, / if you tell . . .” No unassailable comfort zones exist here; no personal space is free from the generalized sense of threat upon which the poet broods.
Thus, in “Revolution,” a garden-variety domestic dispute telegraphs a scene of incipient global conflict. A severe clustering of rhymes evoke sympathy for a particularized, put-upon speaker, caught in the act of unwrapping new wine glasses: “I was, for a moment, almost a sphere. / Then the sour streak of your mouth / cursing the way I kept a house.” The poem quickly concedes the banality of the situation, of time passing through a night of troubled dreams to uneasy waking. Still, the paradoxically generic and specific rumors of other wars, which have “broken out over an old broom, / its hairshock of silence. Where heads / come off because the moon dizzies in the shoemaker's wine,” disturb and confound the reader through their stoic refusals to provide the precise latitude and longitude where the speaker’s wounds have been inflicted.
If the somber musings of these pieces drawn from Body Betrayer resolve themselves, eventually, into facets of the poet's acute awareness of (and sympathy for) human vulnerability, they also hint at her growing appreciation for the quintessential drama of these fragile bodies in motion, the overlapping trajectories they trace—from youth to age, from happiness to despair, from forgetfulness to recollection. The poems taken from her next two collections continue to display these relentless thematic preoccupations, but they also reveal her skill in arranging and sequencing her compositions (both within and across her volumes). Reprise, reverberation, distortion, and feedback are just a few of the textual effects that play out here. As well as a healthy dose of improvisation.
It is no accident that “The Possibilities,” the poem that opens Goldberg’s selection here from In the Badlands of Desire, begins and ends with references to horses. Wrapping up its vivid excursion into a phantasmagoria of the hypothetical, the piece pulls no punches in its final movement, providing a blunt summary of the teleological prejudices that the material from Body Betrayer has so eloquently belabored, reminding us to beware of the very idea of miracles, of how they so readily deteriorate into mere signs
of angels, ghosts, supernatural beings
who watch us. Who listen. Who sometimes
helplessly let us stumble on
their pyramids, their crude observatories
or let us, generation after
generation, speak to the broken horse
of the human heart.
Looking forward, this striking metaphor transfigures the quiet imperative of the title of Goldberg’s next volume, Never Be the Horse, into a warning about the dangers peculiar to the human heart itself, a warning rendered all the more poignant when we pause to consider the word “broken” here, carved like a hieroglyph into the penultimate line of this artifact from The Badlands, and how it conveys the notion of something damaged, something in need of repair, as well as something tamed, no longer wild, something violently domesticated.
Echoing the structural principles which obtain in the original volume, the section of Reliquary Fever drawn from In the Badlands of Desire ends with that book’s title poem. This gesture excavates once again the rhetorical skeleton of “The Possibilities,” laying bare the fierce, anti-romantic strain of Goldberg’s musings. “If there is the statue of a saint / whose toes are worn smooth from old women / kissing,” she incants, “ I / will remember me in the next life.” The persistent layering of these desperate conjectures evoke the poet/speaker’s stubborn miserliness for experience, for sensation, and her tenacious desire to preserve a viable residue of these, to project them somehow into whatever might survive the physical body. Her doubts and her hopes call their audibles here, as her reliquary fever spikes dangerously:
If there is a tongue still moving
toward its mother silence, mint still breaking
its unimaginable green fist
through old aqueducts where the drunk
meet to be lonely and violet
as nets sieving the shine of nothing.
The abstractions Goldberg deploys here (the silence, the nothing) undercut and balance the luminous visuals of her tropes and they prefigure the temerity of her metaphysical forecasting. What spiritual weathers will prevail beyond the form of this substantial life? What new shapes might its recognizable vestiges take?
I will be the look given to a door
when it closes by itself. After
it closes, wondering
was it some hand, some wind. And if it is painted
blue, like the faded crepe of old hours, if
a wolf bare its teeth to its tail
on the doorstep, there will be a hard winter,
a demon spring.
Somehow it comes as no surprise just how much Goldberg predicts will depend upon the gaze of others.
The poems from Never Be the Horse feel more expansive, less single-minded, than Reliquary’s offerings up to this point. One senses a new maturity born, perhaps, from the cares and distractions with which all adults must come to grips, raising children and supporting parents and other loved ones themselves contending with advancing age or infirmity. Bit by bit, we witness a life’s burdens accumulating. The poet’s mother-in-law fights cancer. Her father is hospitalized.
Gradually the poet soliloquizes an introduction to the pragmatics of being a primary caregiver with admirable gravity and aplomb. Though somewhat crazed by stress, like the parched environment she surveys, Goldberg manages to delineate the rich, if ephemeral, correspondences between the outer and the inner landscapes through which she stumbles:
Outside, all down the dry wash rocks spark.
A bird breaks out like a buoyant door.
Which cracks wide my head. Good,
since the ratio of land to water is changing,
and candelabras to fish. Such is wishing, my desert, such
is willing, that for the moment
everything we do metes out
justice. As when the nurse didn’t come
my father told me how to insert the catheter
in him, and when he asked
did it embarrass me I said no it did not
embarrass me. For I was at last
given the instruction, given the task to do,
the words to follow, the devil to pay.
Having survived this rite of passage, Goldberg seems attuned to the substantiality of others in a new way—to their needs, their mortality, their ability to alter her self-image by asserting their own sympathies or antipathies. The sparse, impressionistic verbal landscapes in this section evince a studied sumptuousness which appears symptomatic of the poet’s struggle to translate mere perception into some other, more stable frame of reference. In “A Day Passes Through the Medium of Identity,” the speaker, visiting the site of John Keats’s death, peers into the dusk and observes how it “cools to a plum of nitrogen,” and laments the inarticulateness of a copse of pine trees, how their “wet proof, / rising from twilight / does not give away / what century this is.” She scans the horizons for signals. She scavenges the details for any hidden meaning.
Goldberg is, by turns, numb and hypersensitive to her own compulsions to preserve events, sensations, any subtle intimations of the self that might swirl the EM field like dust or sub-atomic particles. In “Being Pharaoh,” she aligns herself unapologetically with the boldest necromancers from the past, but, even as she argues that “objects are memory,” and offers up streets and shirts, bicycles and shoes to memory’s slow mummifications, her most impressive entombments cover far more fleeting and intangible artifacts: human attitudes and feelings, the uncomfortable silences taken root in a relationship. The vacuities between the couplets Goldberg uses here textualize this quantum aspect of her witnessing; her insights strung together through the empty space resonate across the necessary gaps that articulate matter itself.
Tonight I am sick of every man
and his past. And his past is tired of his
request that it love him. I am trying
to make my bed. I am trying to keep
an angel from cracking my hip. The moon’s
sleeve is flipped back in a drawer . . .
Thrush, you little singing spade—
I’m an unforgivably domestic mourner
and I might sleep through someone’s
late supper, or hunger—just think how
oblivious he will be. While I am in
the dark rustling my own inventory:
Each time we fall out of love we
say it wasn’t really love at all as if
landing, a plane wold say no, not
actual sky. While I am in the dark
getting fit for the afterlife. Admit
we never know the difference, like the woman
who stands up in the cinema and becomes
the black keyhole we peer into.
Such cruel mandates do not always comfort, but they seldom feel unkind.
Written largely in response to the death of her father, the poems collected here from Lie Awake Lake, Goldberg’s fourth volume, continue to grapple with the perennial themes of her earlier work, but with renewed intimacy and urgency. As the poet herself has noted, “When someone dies close to you, you have a lot of questions. And they’re not distant questions anymore, they’re immediate.” The immediacy of the poet’s loss, the complex exhaustion of her grief imbues these texts.
In the dashed off, telegraphic narrative of “Flying In,” the poet floats somewhere in the skies above her funereal destination, directing a beam of scattered observations and recollections downward and back, toward the recently departed, the one unreachable interlocutor who might recognize the inbound path of memory (its impacted language) forced to circle upon itself like a plane awaiting clearance to land:
The city has everything. It has
with more lights on
you’re the far away lake
the far away lake
the lie awake lake.
The mathematical quality of Goldberg’s statement here, the way it posits, with nearly allegorical force, the equivalence of the lost father and the distant body of water, characterizes this poet’s powerful brand of metaphor. In this particular instance it so fully anticipates the agonized subtext of a later poem entitled “Far Away Lake,” that the “we” with which this subsequent piece opens is poignantly disambiguated. The poet crafts her litany of all the ways by which this elusive first person plural can no longer be approached, not
by road, by rope, by
though time would be the way
by please please
time would be the way
then the reed-quiver
a cloud of gnats
mumbling its hypnotic suggestion.
The reader is given to know, intuitively, like the hypnotized, that Goldberg is the “I,” that her father is the tenderly handled “you” in this scene (part dream, part recollection) a scene carefully arranged (right down to its apportionment of the white space on the page, right down to its defective mechanics)
by sleep, sleep
until you say
lift my elbow straighten
straightened you in this life
Goldberg tackles the emotionally fraught subject of her own grieving process fully aware of the dangers of bathos and predictability which beset such a choice. The intense candor of the bereaved speaker in “Like This,” another autobiographical “I” barely obscured by the perfunctory scrim of a second person construction, even admits to how “the farewell has so fucked you up / you see it everywhere, you see yourself / from a distance.”
In the face of such radical derangements of intellectual objectivity and human composure, the poet opts to sublimate death’s spiritual implications into ever more rarefied hypotheses. She triangulates the soul indirectly, tentatively, by way of anatomy and physiology, and an astonishing method of lyric projection.
So “Prologue as Part of the Body” offers Goldberg's cool analysis of the fate of the aroma emanating from a “gardenia tucked behind / the ear” of a person (a body?) present only as the medium through which this peculiar species might betray itself, might make itself known. As she traces the path of the “fragrance spiraling the cochlea,” its “Parfum Fatale collapsing / on the organ of Corti,” the poet dissects the human sensory organ with clinical precision in order to highlight just how wayward the sweetest macromolecules can become. Drawn as they are, to the body, and so, like the body, subject to all the confusions and enchantments “of the wrong orifice wrong passage,” our poet/clinician reminds us that the ear, after all, is “where music should be unwinding, / cry shedding its epithelial layers, the tac-tac / of someone entreating, far away, some door . . .” The poet responds by scrutinizing the world all the more closely, by imagining it more fully, and by writing it down with utmost care.
The poems drawn from The Book of Accident, Goldberg’s most recent individual volume, enact their more pointed cultural critiques by tapping into the revelatory energies of fable. Refiguring any number of myths of human origination, the poet’s “Twentieth Century Children” (who lend their names to several interrelated pieces scattered throughout this part of the collection)
were created in the image
of the image of the glazed
stare of God, its half-lives,
its dream kitchens of gold-
flecked tile, its backyard
bottle trees and common wrens, its
The reference to radioactivity here, invoking a post-apocalyptic, dystopian otherwhere, serves both as a dark indictment of the damaged creatures about to take the stage of the poet’s millennial psychodrama and as an example of the real dangers which beset any society that has relinquished the production of its sustaining narratives to the twenty-four hour headline cycle and the endless pitch of marketing moguls.
Enter: “Wolf Boy,” “Torture Boy,” and a motley assortment of mutant citizens who roam the streets of Goldberg’s anti-Winesburgian “Orchid Town.” In her Gulf Coast interview with Vap and Jensen, Goldberg offers a laundry list of the factors which speak to the provenance of this accidental cast of freaks—“the whole sci-fi thing,” “rock and roll, and the influence of all this technology—what it’s done to impersonalize things and what it’s done to the personal.” To some extent these hybridized, fabular beings foreshadow the figure of “Wound Man” who looms large in the operatically realized sequence that brings Reliquary Fever’s opening section of new poems to a close. Like him they serve as textual avatars of the poet herself, her lucidly bemused doppelgangers of the moment.
The numbered sections of Accident's tour de force, “The Life and Times of Skin Girl,” read like entries in some New Age, alt-fetish bestiary. Narrated by its title character—one part Eurydice, one part Persephone—the warehouse underworld this poem explores overflows with skinheads, ravers, the pierced, and the tattooed. In the hyper-eroticized dimness they inhabit, Skin Girl gropes toward any flare of illumination, certain “all the light she’d need was at / their fingertips.” [RF, pg. 192] But even the gift of fire itself seems corrupted by this atmosphere, or by the dubious motivations of the anti-Prometheus who wields it. As he scratches a “matchhead alive” then throws it to the floor where it “blueball[s] out,” he dedicates his vacuous gesture to “the bitch who thought my world too dark / and frightening, too atomic and unkind . . .”
The raunchy vernacular front-loaded and literalized in this image of the snuffed-out match aptly prefigures the ellipses that trail this tough guy into silence, but the rebus of Skin Girl’s musings, its tawdry auto-play complete with sound track, sustains our movement. Not necessarily forward though. Our heroine’s vague nostalgia for jams gone by waxes King Jamesian as she reels on, remembering
That night the gods so loved the world
anyone in for five bones and
then let the One Singing lift her up
to the light at the mouth of the place—candles
shrining a framed picture of the Dalai Lama.
And then the train.
A thousand lamas blazing.
Impossible as it is to say whether this amounts to some authentic spiritual awakening or just a weirdly decorated gang-bang scene, the text that follows realigns our narrative antenna with the poet’s familiar homing signal, that oscillating sine wave generated by Goldberg’s obsessive soundings of the mysterious cleavage between life and death, perception and memory. “Looking,” our docent of the ineffable points out, “is the only great thing the gods do.” What better justification for doubling down on the holy voyeurism of “sight / and memory shuffling // the looked upon”—what better way to discern the shadows cast by her own flawed creations, their failed negotiations with the light?
Exploring the exurbs of late childhood and the zone where they mutate into the shabbier subdivisions between adolescence and its contemporary annexes, these latter poems resist any idyllic landscaping. In “Dialogue: Memory and Forgetting” the human presence at the lyric center of the piece is barely conceived of as a body. The personified mental processes given voice in the poem pepper it with questions and observations though, and picture it covered “with mud, with fur, with sweet oil, / a sheet.” But, on the grid of the poem’s generalized detachment, it’s difficult to plot just who might lay claim to the realization that “it’s a world where no one has to love you. // But they do.” The pseudo-epiphany here redeems, literally, “no one.”
The vast, baroquely evoked space/time encompassed by “Nights with the Star-Ladle over the House,” like any bedtime story worth its salt, troubles even as it seeks to reassure.
The whimsy of this title’s reference to one of the celestial dippers as a “star ladle,” alchemically transforms the distant constellation into a homely utensil. But such domestications, for Goldberg, always raise more questions than they answer. Even as we are drawn in by the human scale of the poem’s opening interrogation, by its sing-song rhymes and repetitions—
leaves the door open a crack,
the hall light, the mother light,
planting its straw of sleep?
—the hushed, admonitory tones of, “Don’t be sad when the drifting begins,” impel a more disturbing narrative, one whose gentle euphemisms instruct the listener to prepare for a time when there will be “no one to talk / water to the glass.”
The dark angel speaking this piece perceives with doubled, troubling vision the very local, transitory nature of the scene from “ordinary life” being played out, and, as her explications careen through terminologies that suggest imprisonment or institutionalization, describing two worlds—one “of the guarded,” the other “of the guard,”—she pontificates cryptically, “First you’re one, / then you’re the other. / But you’re the other the longest . . . / / That’s what the light meant.” The moral here, as it maps its abstractions back into the very concrete detail of the poem’s opening, is rendered all the more disquieting because it rings so true. Childhood ends. Get your own damned drink of water.
The laser-like thematic coherence of Goldberg’s oeuvre is reflected, on a formal level, at many crucial points throughout Reliquary Fever. Her process of distilling the material of six individual collections into this singular grouping has allowed the poet to create many powerful linkages of image and argument, especially at the fault lines where one book edges into another.
The group of mares, so “shapely and dark with waiting,” which the poet depicts in the austere meditations of “Horses at Estero Beach” (the final piece in this selection drawn from Body Betrayer), immediately evoke the hypothetical creature in the opening strophe of “The Possibilities,” (the poet’s first inclusion from Badlands). The latter poem’s gratuitously odd suggestion that “After a wife’s death a man may talk / to his horse with a great tenderness” makes perfect sense if we recall, within the graceful system of Goldberg’s imagistic calculus, horse = heart.
A pissed-off, loaded-for-bear “Leda (2)” steps out of the thicket of the new poems swearing
To hell with women.
They who rescued me from the swan’s song,
they who turned me
out of the old need to
measure immeasurable longing and plumbed me
like an excuse
for every kind of pious
earth-motherly sociologic gyno-kitsch
Had she not warned us back in The Badlands of Desire how important it was that we get her story right? “This / is not the god’s story—it is mine. / It is not straight.” The last thing she wanted was a bunch of PC over-simplifications aggravating the crime of how “the swan // warped [her] shape in his, like the second / ring of water the first.” It is a woman’s prerogative, after all, to change her mind (and her feminist precepts) as often as she sees fit.
Seeing fit . . . This functional objective of the poet’s eye preoccupies Goldberg as persistently as the idea of God or the various fates that await our bodies. And, though she seems comfortable with the notion that perception and memory are calibrated to the processes that allow biology and psychology to interpenetrate, that they may even anatomize time itself and the many versions of it we manufacture as history and narrative and dream, the soul remains, for her, an elusive transparency. Maybe this explains Goldberg’s choice of the cover art by Konomi Watanabe which adorns this volume. Life-sized, violet fingers reach toward the surface of a mysteriously lustrous sphere which floats upon another, brightly cross-hatched membrane (suggesting water?) which appears perfectly smooth and yet seems, simultaneously, to be rippling. This effect, heightened by the distorted reflection of those fingers as misshapen smudges welling up along the book’s left edge, calls to mind any number of moments from the poems, but perhaps none so emphatically as “Eye,” (from Lie Awake Lake), which crystallizes Goldberg’s god-resistant metaphysics with amazing precision:
It was not by accident the eye
was attracted to the water,
the eater of doubles: the good
cattail and the bad cattail, one
rising from the other like memory—the gnat
and the gnat, the sycamore reaching up
to heaven and the sycamore hanging down
to that heaven . . . So the dizziness
that beauty is, losing
is. And with this bark-colored eye,
this eye that was a father's and
a mother's, I drank
back the helpless world—the one
that is all body, not spirit, not
a bit—that is silt, sex, and germ
and the Temple of Being Beside. I was
young beside you, water, and my father and I
were on your face, there were willows, and this
was in early summer or at least
it has become early summer,
the double of once.
When the links to this review finally go hot it may actually be close to early summer once more. Certainly the annual hoopla of March Madness will have finished sweeping the planet, ending the sordid bouts of hooky-playing that have been all the rage lately among blue- and white-collared fanatics alike. So, I decided to offer a Goldbergian bracketology of sorts, if only to suggest the similarity of the brutal processes of elimination to which ball players and poets are subjected as their best and brightest scrap it out under the glare of another cruel spring. The following ratios of the actual numbers of poems that made it to the big dance in Reliquary Fever to the total number of almost-should-have-could-have-played’s in each of the poet’s published collections is appalling and sick and hope-provoking: Body Betrayer: 15/42, In the Badlands of Desire: 14/47, Never Be The Horse: 17/34, Lie Awake Lake: 22/45, and The Book of Accident: 24/55. Appalling because any fan of this major American poet will find, to her/his infinite chagrin, many a favorite masterpiece is missing from this selection. Sick because several of the nineteen or so new poems that open (and close) this tight volume are destined to become fan favorites in their own right. One can only hope that Goldberg’s strategy of stingy, superlative winnowing will help keep her individual volumes in print and in play so that new generations of readers will have access to the full scope and gravity of her production through many mad seasons to come. Maybe, just maybe, this will prove to be all the immortality she requires.