Twin Cities by Carol Muske Dukes

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Carol Muske-Dukes’s Twin Cities is a meditation on the way the world is doubled in the self, in literature and in the world around us.

In the title poem “Twin Cities,” we are inside the speaker’s childhood, and the past. The speaker speaks to herself and to that of the river: “I think that the river returned then to two-sidedness–An overhung history of bottle flash and drift.” The speaker reflects on memories of old friends, and those memories not fully remembered—meaning the river’s (perhaps geological) past. The speaker discovers that she and the river are two of the same: “We were all in this together.”

In “Two Coasts,” Dukes reveals her dualities of home and the difficulties that lie within living a bicoastal life: “wak[ing] up in somebody else’s night,/ somebody else’s day.” With this polarity, she also discusses the duality of life: “You learn to live in transit, / Both trigger and safety.” Life is in constant motion in time and in physicality. The trigger and the safety are interesting counterparts in the so-called “game of life. “Here, exists another doubling, one with life and death. Similarly, the same argument follows in another poem, “River Road:”

As the opposite of fate. Imagine a speed

At which you could make what was happening

Not be true, a speed at which you could bargain

For it: that you, on fire, from this minute forward,

Could be somebody else.

The idea of being somebody else is desirous at times to everyone. When we rename something, it changes. It is renewed, born again or simply doubled. Perhaps it exists as two distinct identities. In “Boy,” the speaker is renamed “boy” while fishing in the Himalayas in her twenties. She is renamed because she is an anomaly:

Taller by half foot—

Gawky in my rolled jeans and cap—they

Chose to look away from my small breasts and

Voice-lilt and rename me in the lexicon of sex.

Not only is she literally given another name; but the name is nondescript as it is one based purely on gender. Here, her identity is split. She says it is bewildering:

Their one word for me and it was not sister or/
Daughter: I was naked face; twenty seven, a rebel, /
I thought

Putting gender aside, at the end of the poem, she becomes fish-like, “I gasped like a fish, till I was a pair of eyes on a plate,/ That body the world wishes both to savor and destroy.” Here, again, the body is just a body, and not a species or a sex.

In “Heroine,” the literary-self is identified. Muske-Dukes addresses Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, (a favorite to many) to further discuss the way the self is reflected in the literary world — on the page. Nowhere can doubling be better found that in Bronte’s novel, as the “mad colonial wife, ” Bertha is Jane’s “double.” Bertha doubles in Jane what Jane cannot express: her passion, her angst, perhaps even her self:

So, the happy ending relies, as always, on varieties
Of comeuppance: Jane’s class avenged, Rochester
Humbled and sightless, the mad “colonial” wife
Setting fire to the rafters, the little kid coquette”

“Heroine,” continues to unravel the self in relation to the literary by looking also at the relationship between Rochester(Jane’s love interest) and Jane and then Jane and Bertha (Rochester’s wife):

Except for the matter of the thread, the breath-colored
Filament linking two hearts with pretty much nothing
In common. The thread pulses like a Bronte umbilical,
Which it is. We are reminded once again that its length

Is infinite, its connection eternal. Though not, finally,
For the two sexes; rather, woman to woman, beyond
Class or aptitude. Like the clean path of the flare,
Shot and ascending across latitudes, against satellite.

The pleasure in this collection of poems is the multiplicity of meaning. Focusing on the multitudes of reflection and duality, the poem “Mirror,” is powerful in both its self- reflection and its literal reflection. The poem is about a memory.

The first independent act I managed as a haunted/
Kid was to lift the heavy round antique mirror /
I’d found in the attic and hang it from a nail…

Further in the poem, the speaker sees herself in the mirror and analyzes the beauty and non-beauty that exists there. She is a witness:

Now in my sixty-third year, the mirror graces/
My bedroom wall. In its depths each man who/
Stood behind me in reflection, all disappeared./

And the image—shattered, unshattered—visible.

The literal reflecting nature of the mirror causes the speaker to do her own self reflection:

once, as a child and again, many years later.

The book closes with the triplet of the title poem, “Twin Cities:”

Then the sudden
Twin—how she stepped out of me, took everything—

Then flung it back, whole, doubled, each time she turned.
& turned, absorbed in breath, her task of never looking back.

Here, the twin returns to the narrative, nature, reflection, and the echoing of the self within the self.

Everywhere the world is doubled. Nature itself is doubled. Even in our own writing our voice can be doubled—sometimes double-edged. Muske-Dukes’s book seems the perfect read for this time of year when the year is winding down, yet life is still rumbling forward. Thinking about her, “trigger, not safety” I still wonder at how much we are doubling in our daily lives that we are unaware of. Sometimes, I am constantly aware of what vividly lives in each day and what lies dormant, waiting for a time to surface. Twin Cities is a book that makes you think about the past, the present and the self in a haphazard sort of way.

Leah Umansky's first book, “Domestic Uncertainties,” is forthcoming in 2013 by Blazevox Books. She is currently at work on her second book of poems. Leah also hosts and curates the COUPLET reading series in New York. Read more at her blog: More from this author →