A change of position, a change of time — R. Erica Doyle’s Proxy moves through the heady, consuming stages of desire, explosion, depression, and peace within the life-cycle of a relationship. Her prose poems are unafraid of the body, of queerness, and the messiness into which one can willingly dive.
You are a third generation beast in a first generation world of open legs.
You were six when you read your mother’s Marquis de Sade. It explained so much about the things in the house. Kama Sutra at seven, but you remained unimpressed. Likewise, at eight, by the flaccid illustrations in The Joy of Sex, the painting of Shoji at nine, kimonos parted over thick white penises, the arc of them shining into pleated vulvas.
Divided into five sections all beginning with the letter P — prologue, palimpsest, proxy, phasedown, petroglyph — each page is both standalone and part of a greater whole. The text is laid out as squarely as Proxy‘s cover, which, despite the intense emotion present throughout, feels right when considering the epigraphs at the start of each section. Doyle pulls quotes from David Berlinski’s A Tour of the Calculus, a 1997 book that “reveal[s] how the calculus reconciles the precision of numbers with the fluidity of the changing universe.” The selections turn mathematics into poetry, which doesn’t feel too reaching, considering that a certain type of brain finds comfort in numbers.
A [ ] is thrown into the air. At its extremities it changes its behavior.
Something so simple as a [ ] in flight
has acquired a tripartite aspect,
a critical point
lying between points marking its regular behavior.
from A Tour of The Calculus
Still, structural considerations are not what make Proxy so initially striking. Noticing the structure only comes after one has ridden the waves of skin, hunger, and “everyone, dragging.” Every feeling of connection and absence happens acutely and honestly. Doyle examines personal flaws like greediness and jumping into misguided relationships that are likely familiar to anyone who has worked through messy mental spaces.
One page within “Palimpsest” struck me, for it so perfectly encapsulates bad behavior masquerading as romance. I know what it is to yearn for connection and the attempts at dissolving impenetrable loneliness by using other people. It is not a pleasant side to anyone’s personality, but when one is young and in need, willfully misguided dating serves a purpose.
You talk to them first, pay close attention to the details, are interested and easily amused. Women like that. Always a voracious reader, you turn their pages, memorize the deep structure of their grammar, their adjectival clauses. A question in private that puts them off guard. Women are so polite. So crisscrossed with borders. Sometimes it’s like stealing. Taking something you don’t really want just to. Get away with it. Sometimes you tell them you love them. Sometimes, not often, this is true.
You hold back enough to keep them curious. Women like that. Wounded enough to be salvageable. Women like that, to. Fixing things. Take in the broken wing you drag like a decoy.
For me, the difference is that, when I pay attention to all the details, I sincerely want all the details. I enjoy the study of people, particularly those I love or to whom I am very attached, and in return, I will offer my story. However, the details are not given without being asked. The fountain of personal information must first be turned on, in so many ways.
I love that Doyle does not shy away from words like “fuck” or “cunt,” because they are so based in truth. In our private lives, what happens occurs in a language we do not use with casual acquaintances. Doyle has us dive right into personal moments where sex is full-on and unapologetic.
Proxy lends itself well to rereading because “You hope to perform an autopsy.” Love poems and breakup poems sometimes avoid the dirt, and reading Doyle’s poems are a reminder to keep it real. We are fluids, we are screams, we are tenderness, and we are cruel withdrawals. Proxy holds us all.