In Melanie Hubbard’s We Have With Us Your Sky, there are narrative patterns to unearth—thematic connections secured (or sentenced) by proximity—but not many, really, or at least not more than those found skipping through a scattered handful of photos stolen from the aged unlabeled cardboard box left to rot in the garage of a record-keeping relative. Here there are “little wooden boats,” and over there “difficult pistachios.” Here, a “lake of fire,” followed by the similarly haunting pastoral images of a “harm garden,” “papaya guts,” and “judas tree.” The natural imagery is exact, a catalogue in spots (“Tubular buds you can eat, the frank/ faces of lilies and cold stars// Amid towering ferns, the swollen coast…” or the carefully noted repetition of “orange car, orange car,/ white car, white car, white car”), and yet these world-materials are no more tethered to story or essentially related than the names of the things one utters out-loud as true proof of the world existing (bringing to mind the opening of Inger Christensen’s alphabet: “apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist”). Instead one discovers that the motion of this book is that of a boat maneuvered through unruly waters in the wake of the call of the siren—the reader, in this case, a mate mesmerized by her aurally hallucinating captain. There is alarm here. There is awe and uncertainty at stake. There is improbability, insanity, imprisonment, and what present themselves as dire moments of (rhetorical and formal) calm or quiet. In these poems one discovers hazard and violence (there is much bone and blood), but it often arrives as surprise and is always paired with the unpredictable, obsessive pursuit of pure music. “How nonlinear nature is,” Hubbard writes, and later: “the divine divine sea/ opens without meaning/ the meaning through it.” These are poems concerned with the mysteries of speech and voice(s) (in “Mary Shelley Speaks,” Hubbard writes, “I was not confined to my own identity”), in record keeping, point of view, and protecting the thrilling trill of thought both spoken and silent. These are poems that sound pressed into the groove of an actual record (the gramophone reoccurs as ideal technology), and operate as if the line is the necessary needle to provoke a crackling, imperfect formal warble (for they also risk err and wear; the lines are sonic tries, charmingly inconsistent in tone like a voice changed by the weight of play or sleeve dust). The book’s effect is distinctly less Bishop than Holiday, more Cline than Plath. Also, as in the case of any soul mobilized by ear, Hubbard’s work depicts a fascination with silence as pause and punctuation, as prayer, as possible imprisonment and necessary ingredient in inquiry. We Have With Us Your Sky is replete with school children, captives, Quakers, women, philosophers, gardens, and texts: all historically famous locations, keepers, and protectors of silence. Still the poems rise—at first through hush and hiss—to create a clamor; to capture the inherent din that rings in the background of places we mistake for quiet; the particular hum of pun, association, memory, and internal melody. We hear in the poem “The Pequots,” ”The sky’s a mackerel page—/ a clotted scum, no scrum. Scrim.” or in “A Loose Mountain”:
Solve for X. My dress is cracked on
Elliptical paths, exposed and holding.
Moon, you won’t be denied, you cry
O as you slip inside,
Undone. Unfurl the bud in the socket, the iron…
The rhymes are dense, relentless: x/dress, cracked/paths, exposed/holding/won’t/O, Moon/you, Elliptical/slip, denied/cry/inside, on/undone/(bud?)/iron, socket/(cracked?). We drop down down down via vowel. Much the way Dickinson’s “plank of reason” breaks toward a new understanding, Hubbard’s poems in their most intense moments floor the reader, including an element of visual and sonic vertigo that won’t let go; we are spun, turned, and falling faster than we wish to grasp the meaning. In “Ample Rhapsody,” Hubbard acknowledges this purposeful desertion as a method of exploration; she writes:
to inform the vehicle
of its own abandonment
to call readers to action
smaller investigations and searches that go on in the body
the vehicle of its own abandonment
Like true love’s embrace, we are aflame with physical sense (of rhythm, repetition) before even realizing the significance of the touch; we are consumed, entombed with sensation; shot suddenly into visions of future transformation even as we reel with the pleasure of the present interaction.