The poems are themselves stealthy, hiding but then eventually revealing themselves to the writers. Or the stealth writers, both Seaton and Ace autonomous and authentic somewhere in that collaborative voice.
Stealth is a strategy, a way to “witness without being seen.” It is this kind of witnessing that motors the four sections of Stealth, a new collaborative work by Maureen Seaton and Samuel Ace. In a concluding note, the poets describe the process of writing, when they allowed “the pieces to reveal themselves over a year,” ultimately creating poems addressing “the space in each of us that seeks authenticity and autonomy, but sometimes finds it necessary… to hide.” The poems are themselves stealthy, hiding but then eventually revealing themselves to the writers. Or the stealth writers, both Seaton and Ace autonomous and authentic somewhere in that collaborative voice.
Often, this process is less about what we hide from or reveal to others and more about how we understand ourselves. We’re alienated from our bodies, even if that’s all we have. “What happened to my legs? They seem so / rabid, furious, relentless.” The domestic becomes a liminal space (or “transliminal,” as one section has it), the site of half-truths and concealed intentions, where someone “stands and walks back from where he came” again and again. Stealth’s collaborative voice reflects these experiences, moving quickly between straightforward observations and unexpected, weird imagery. “He crawls, he pleads, exhausted. Lying down in the wash / He sees his stubby soul caught in branches, hanging low.”
As a strategy, this type of stealth creates a very particular set of poems. They are fractured, shadowed, off-in-the-corner poems. They link together in long sequences that sometimes suggest narratives, but the narratives are the stories that follow disasters and survival, more about the act of taking stock and staying alive than about connecting the dots. These poems have secrets, and while there is some pleasure to be had in puzzling with them, they aren’t really designed to give up their inner selves. “Just when you think you’re sure/ you become the fusey spark,” as the prologue declares, trying to make sense of the moon.
Certainly, it is the stealthy qualities of these poems, their danger, that make them exciting to read. Once you start to get your finger on something, it transforms itself, sheds a skin or hits puberty. In “Secret 22 (yellowthroat),” for instance, the uncertain “Well maybe a bird” becomes “well maybe / a cruel mascara,” “well maybe a throat,” and “well maybe the yellow / of Jewish stars,” all within a page. And as the images and the language shifts, so do the themes, so that poems are as often about the need to go somewhere new as they are about the need to stay.
This stealth is also a challenge, however. Or, in an occasional stumble, a block to whatever else might be there. Bringing together the stealth that is the name of a rollercoaster, the stealth that is the name of an aircraft, the stealth of gender and of war and pretend—the connecting threads themselves are hiding, which is exciting if not also the thing that can slow you down when you want to push forward. As one poems declares,
It’s what happens
when you push
your cock into
water you simply
die of want
Not satisfying in the sense you might expect or want, but insisting instead on something else, trying to lure some other type of pleasure out of the language.
It is fitting that the final section of the collaboration, the “Epilogue,” both gestures toward some explanatory notes while also complicating the whole business. We’re given biographical details, historical accounts, and biology lessons, all revealing the facts that are at the stealth center of the poems. The section is also littered with its own lines, shards of verses with no set place to go. Clues, maybe, but without any eureka moments, the breadcrumbs leading in all directions. It concludes, “Or any of several variations of the above.”
If stealth is a way of being it is also a way of escaping, of finding somewhere new to escape from. “It is said we come to the desert to burn through // Whatever holds us there,” one poem declares. This burning is the constant burning of Stealth, of those who “volcanized the earth.” Put another way, “thumbs turned heartward, they burned.” Demanding “throw me down in scorched sand.” The fire is phoenix-like, but rather than emerging beautiful and fresh, we emerge just as complex and messed up as before, the earth holding whatever damage we have tried to forget. We can try to be invisible, the poems seem to say, but invisibility is not an easy thing, the periphery of passing both a safe and a dangerous place to end up. A perfect and difficult subject for a collaboration, these two talented voices hybridizing themselves into something new, urging us “rupture, little one, into the next human hell, the next human heaven.”