Excerpts From a Secret Prophecy by Joanna Klink

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Joanna Klink’s fourth volume opens with an epigraph from Virginia Woolf: Now let us issue from the darkness of solitude.

In The Waves, Neville compounds that utterance of Louis’s: Now let us say, brutally and directly, what is in our minds… Our isolation, our preparation, is over. The furtive days of secrecy and hiding, the revelations on staircases, moments of terror and ecstasy.

In Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy, Klink turns over questions of what it is that we might find when we press past the felt sense of solitude and into the question of whether there is any condition under which it might ever loosen its insistence:

Toward what island-home am I moving,

not wanting to marry, nor wanting

too much of that emptiness at evening,

as when I walked through a field at dusk

and felt wide in the night… (‘Toward What Island-Home Am I Moving,’ 3)

Repeatedly she pushes this question, mapping that territory where loss and solitude shape one another:

…(And certain griefs cannot be brought inside,

too full as they are of their own destinations.)  (‘The Graves,’ 60)

Some poetry feels to me to lie beyond the project of analysis for the way it moves my attention into key distinctions—distinctions that feed my own writing and living, acts of thinking and feeling that make my life.  I read Klink in order to return to that attention I call reading. It is an attention that is as vertical as poetry: contact with this language demands I meet this present and let my attention go simultaneous with it.

With that simultaneity comes the edge on which all losses pause, continuous with our consideration of them:

I don’t know

if my wounds were wounds to the eyes

or the heart. When they looked away,

I also was included

in the contents of mirrors. (‘Obituary,’ 8)

The lessons of loss are essential to a whole sensibility, to an understanding that runs deep enough to allow one read the world accurately and insightfully, yes?

But sometimes the I is stranded, or it strands itself. Standing with it, one stands separate:

This is not a natural world, and if there are

recoveries from confusion, they pass like rains.

I don’t look to the robins for solace; neither do I trust

that to make an end is to make a beginning. (‘Elemental,’ 1)

I have come to Klink’s work since Raptus to find what it is that can be said about the life of loss: what it expresses, what it wants from us, how it might be rendered something like presence, and what if anything can be uttered wholly from within it. I find in these newest lines the conditions of loss healed not through restoration but through a practice of bracing acknowledgement:

There will be a time when nothing living moves,

a degradation of stillness beyond any liquid scar.

Still, the solutions of despair are weak

if you believe you can touch an undersea reef,

the belly of a small wounded whale.

You have the power to feel it.

The breath of the animal

moving like trust into your arms…

…(Is there some

refuge beyond ourselves that is vast enough?

The sea is without grief. As are the days.) (‘Terrebonne Bay,’ 12)

I go to Klink’s poems to stand with the actual, constant, and unavoidable knowing that engagement invites and to be returned to my capacity for sensitivity. Perhaps this is the hidden understanding of poetry. I delight to see Klink’s internal tributaries, those rivers of space that beckon to me so strongly within her work, return in these pages to help map the passage:

What is remarkable      What is improbable

What is shameless or feckless or vague (‘Early Night, Askew,’ 23)

I hold my breath for the poet as she addresses the question of what freedom might come from these acceptances, and what we might then revise the plea of loneliness to stand for:

These are seasons, not eternities,

but to lie here, thin water and candor,

is to be stranded. Autumn, morning, dusk,

I scoured the river, opal-alluvial.

I wanted to know and I wanted to ask.

If I am only hull to what happens,

let me at least feel more deeply that flitting,

the dead light of stars over my hands,

into my throat. (‘Novenary,’ 18)

And in the collection’s title poem, I take from her line that second person invitation—

Once I lived throatless   believed that

holding back sorrow would make sorrow

soften    So easy to place an X

over who you were    the soil under rain

now the fires shifting plates

beneath this wet cement

And if I have hoped for more

it is only the whole of loneliness

swept away by understanding (‘Excerpts From a Secret Prophecy,’ 50-51)

—and come to wonder whether the poem must be as true to the poet’s secrets as it is to the secrecy of reading in order to approach its own fulfillment, embody its own prophecy.

Reading Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy I settle with the felt lyric Klink offers—eerily mystical and utterly specific—and think, we must make use of the whole attention afforded to us:

Am I not alone, as I thought I was, as I thought

The day was, the hour I walked into, morning

When I felt night fly from my chest where prospect had

Slackened, and close itself off, understanding, as I thought I did,

That the ground would resist my legs and not let them

Break nor let them be released into air as my heart, in its

Muscle, might be released from the body that surrounds it,

Like someone who, placing a hand on a shoulder’s

Blade, felt a life move inside an hour and a day

Break from the day the hour meant something more than weakness,

More than fear, and flew forward into the depths of

Prospect, your arms, where you’d been, before me, waiting

For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense

It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.    (‘Pericardium,’ 33)

One should read Klink as though one is in love or in grief. One should bow. Those are the laws governing us and the territories that require our speech.

I read in order to remember again what it is that is worth trying to say even when the saying will never suffice.

Perhaps there is something beyond the instinct for remaining intact. The thing about prophecy is that all that is conditional by nature is in fact large enough to encompass the entirety of the world:

If there is a world, let me be in it.

Let fires arise and pass. The sky fill with evening air

then sink across the woodlots and porches,

the streams thinning to creeks.

In winter there will be creatures half-locked in ice,

storms blown through iron grates, a drug of whitest ardor.

Let the old hopes be made new.

Let stacks of clouds blacken if they have to

but never let the people in this town go hungry.

Never let them fear cold. If there is a world,

let it not be temporary, like these vague stars.

Let us die when we must. And spinelessness

not overtake us, and privation,

let rain bead across tangled lavender plants.

If there is a world where we feel very little,

let it not be our world. Let worth be worth

and energy action—let blood fly up to the surface skin.

If you are fierce, if you are cynical, halfhearted, pained—

I would sit with you awhile, or walk next to you,

and when we take leave of each other after so many years,

the oaks will toss their branches in wheels of wind

above us—as if it had mattered, all of it,

every second. If there is a world. (‘Processional,’ 61)

May we all find those pieces we go to.


Rae Gouirand’s first collection of poetry, Open Winter, was selected by Elaine Equi for the Bellday Prize and won an Independent Publisher Book Award and the Eric Hoffer Book Award. Her new work has appeared most recently in American Poetry Review, ZYZZYVA, The California Journal of Poetics, VOLT, The Brooklyner, The Fanzine, and in a Distinguished Poet feature for The Inflectionist Review.  (allonehum.wordpress.com) More from this author →