The Hydromantic Histories by Fox Frazier-Foley
In The Hydromantic Histories, Fox Frazier-Foley reinterprets the actions of the Saints and inserts them into daily routines. St. Gemini is the star of this collection. She appears in the majority of the book’s titles. In religious faith, Saints offer protection, give validation to beliefs, comfort people through their fears. Frazier-Foley, however, is also an initiate of the Vodou religion. She manages to blend spiritualities in her poems to create a new language. Mentioned in some notes on Haitian Vodou* is La Marasas: derived from the Marasa, or divine twins, considered to be the first children of the Bondye, or the “good” god. I think it’s interesting that the La Marasas are twins and that Saint Gemini is also a metaphor for twins. St Gemini storms or floats through these poems exhibiting many themes: nature vs. nurture, male and female, peaceful vs menacing. She is a true representation of dualist souls.
In “St. Gemini Pens a Private Eulogy for St. Sunlight, Patron Saint of Rational Thought and Love of Knowledge, Occasionally Conflated in Some Histories with St. Thomas Aquinas,” the integration of nature with violent tragedy is surprising and effective. Frazier-Foley describes exploding hills, the monarch butterfly, and a cardinal sitting on a snowy branch, while in the same poem revealing:
in September, minutes
before the buildings fell)
blue wasp that landed on my
suitcase and scared me
from my room in the midst
of evacuation packing for Katrina…
Describing the minute elements that we see every day—the birds, insects, snow, we relate to and remember a pre—9/11, a willingness to be nomadic even. The violence explodes into our conscience as its own character. The reader is forced back to think where they were during those events, humans connecting through trauma. It is the little details, the “paying attention” to our own backyard that elucidates revelation.
A spiritual journey is one that connects a person to something higher, by definition faith is something one cannot touch, only know. Frazier-Foley illustrates this bridge: we step onto it like some kind of meditative quickening bi-frost. Part of one’s journey is who one meets along the way: who do we take with us? Frazier-Foley has many poems about changing homes and travelling. Different characters make an appearance. Frazier-Foley depicts masculine tropes in different respects. Violence is change, an old way of thinking dies, the new emerges. In her poem, “Papa Legba, St. Compass and Keeper of Keys, Protects St. Gemini During Childhood Turbulence,” Frazier-Foley illustrates a man emitting a warning to her and a cabdriver. The warning is:
“Don’t let me catch you back here” and he flicks hot ash from his cigarette. A red bobcat. (The bobcat feels like a real bobcat sitting in the front seat with him as Frazier-Foley describes the scene,)
his bobcat bucked
snarling low That glowing
cherry lit my
dreams for weeks…
There is a sense of tamping down boundaries as well as an electric sexuality (the reference to virginity in “cherry.”) We don’t know if we like this fear or not, feeling in danger not only for our subject but also for ourselves. We don’t always want to know what comes next.
The images move from transience to a new world: romantic love. Cigarettes play a role, whether sharing them or smoking alone after experiencing a domestic dispute. Her relationships in front of her are magnetic and sensual. Though the poems present a foggy overture, like a black and white movie, beautiful but dream-like.
In “St. Gemini Basks in the Light Case by St. Caduceus and His Brass (Not Stone, Nor Earth, Nor Boundless Sea,)” Frazier-Foley expertly crafts this intimate exchange:
still with pleasure as you wound
you around me shed
your smell over me like when the stainless
spiral screws through
cork so deep its widest
wound is wrought by exit…
…so tight nothing between us but brilliant
change smearing like
paint on bone…
The physical representations, like the references to the Saints in the poem titles, are gritty; the tension exudes from the page, the reader is an imposter. Yet, Frazier-Foley plays with dualism, combining exquisiteness of the natural world into that of the physical. Here is a lush example from “St. Gemini Etches Several Walls During the Years Spent with St. Caduceus:”
…I’d smoke a joint to put my tongue on your spit.
and there was Marlon Brando, glancing at me again
and again, from his cool
corner table. I thought of you
& thought be a mountain
and then this same poem, so grounded in yearning, ends with these phrases:
Sizzle waterfalls evaporate comets
everything born & unborn disintegrate everything save the holy pulsing
thing that blows
me open whenever I see you.
Frazier-Foley uproots the sky and waterfalls, ending with her mind being blown open. Her words stab us like a lightning bolt. The stereotypical male and female roles exchange places in this universe. Often, it is the female character who does not look away, who is the aggressor. It is difficult to write about sensuality, relishing the heat of skin, but Frazier-Foley effortless exposes this nerve In “A Letter From St. Gemini to St. Caduceus After He Kisses Her Again and Whispers: Shine On, You Crazy Diamond,”
…I’ll keep this Savannah we’ve built
on our bones. This empty
snug as cool ceramic in your palm?)
(I curled over you again and again
as a fine long ribbon is corkscrewed by the rubbing of a blade)
The materials of clay and metal are introduced, transposed with intimacy to create a new intimacy. What is it to feel the power of safety if not to feel a blade penetrate our cocoons now and then?
Frazier-Foley delivers a violent story line as succinctly as she exhibits knowledge of tender connections. The poem, “St. Gemini Sketches a Crude Map for Her Estranged, Her Worker of Metals, St. Maker, With Apology for Its Incomplete Nature,” reveals:
…My neighbor’s attacker cut
off her eyelids then
then he forced
of his body
into every part
of her body…
As the one girl is being attacked, lines from another girl’s life intermingle. The other girl thinks about the girl who kissed her, the trash can that was thrown at her, the gunshots fired in the bar below her apartment. She thinks she, too, could have been target.
I was alone turned on
the television for light fires gleamed raged devoured
molten sheets of domino across the screen…I painted my lips red as a distraction…
The above poem reads like a mini-book—the intensity smolders with heartbreak and rage. We gaze into a periscope of violence: how the balance of passion can tip into oblivion and humanity becomes unreachable.
Throughout this collection, Frazier-Foley reveals how humans can be both maker and destroyer. This book is vast in its acknowledgement of fleeting goodness in the world and an ever present darkness: the struggle for balance. Frazier-Foley’s poems grip us in a vise, willing us to stay alive for one more sunrise and one more caress, one more glimpse of the beauty of an indigo throated peacock.
The title is epic— as well as it should be— this collection is a journey through trauma, growth, and human connection. It is a phenomenal first book and eerily breathes and expands to a breathtaking conclusion. Like the ancient allure of hydromancy procures: something that is absent is shown to you through water: like the ocean, the power of these poems is infinite.