Saturday Rumpus Poetry: A Poem-Review of Milk Black Carbon and Whereas





Milk Black Carbon, Joan Naviyuk Kane, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017

Whereas, Layli Long Soldier, Graywolf, 2017

Hereafter known as [MBC] and [W]

To review a book is to trace one’s hand on construction paper with a large crayon
until it looks like a maple leaf
or rooster comb.
Something other than what it is.

That is the work of poetry—to distopiate. To make words up. Divide the letters of words. Argue with meaning [W 27]. Use with Inupiaq [MBC 13/14, 20/21, 34/35]— send them with another not their own
until “a transitional place / bears evidence of others dwelling:” [MBC 3]—
as if one language speaking while the other one sleeps— underneath the undertow of the dream-language of the language asleep speaking—
Was only what it was to be oneself in a new world one did not know and did not want but was there nonetheless.

The voice in language not its own drags a sense of its own within it. “Because drag changes when spoken of in the past” [W 7].
The drag hook… / catches yet on green not so gone— [MBC 10].

And what of this poetry of the native woods the sparrows and hardship and whatnots of the words provided. A feather or broken twig fallen from a nest. A song torn as history of the native people.
Who they were from and why when and whatever they leave in the box meant for lost articles.
The memory of the x-ray machine you put your feet into and the bones of your feet showed.

Headline News / Compiled from A History of the Alaskan Native as Published in the Headlines of the Nome Nugget from 1901-1976 [MBC 8].

The machines no longer needed or allowed and the man pushes his thumb into the toe of the shoe you try on to see if there is room and yes it fits he assures you he knows what he says.

The footprint of these books—Inupiaq and Oglala Lakota. The unfolding of them from the box. While boxed in the poem in the shape of a box [W 8]. The shape of a square house-shaped. Or a block of reservation.

She is said to carry a wooden box [MBC 60]. In it the bones of one’s footprints these books reveal.

The examination of the meanings of language and notes on the writing of language. All loveliness. As writing at the alphabet will be the bone of existence. Gertrude Steinian at times [W 34, 48 somewhat]. There is an optimal usage of language and the looseness of which allows other optimals into the piece. Shapes of petroglyphian-shaped meanings. Or patterns of Navajo rugs—twill weave, two gray hills, storm pattern [W 47, 81] Clipped. Associative [W 40].

There is government double-talk of mimicked forms [W 61-85]. Other pieces of infringement.
The voice eating words like grasses and grasses until only the ground is left. As Andrew Myrick said of the starving Dakota when the trader was not forthwith with rations in Minnesota in 1862, causing in part the Dakota Uprising in which settlers were killed and 38 Dakota hanged [W 49-53].

Literature evenmore reading what it is to be after the afterward. Embarking on the embarkment of the land turning over by the plowing of the plows—or the cracking of ice pressure ridges. Another world within another.

In a lecture hall, once, in Barrow / I listened while the ice of the Beaufort Sea / split into blue leads three months early [MBC 26].
The issues of climate assimilation—Last year’s tall grass was not lost to snow: / it pales still, turning and nodding, ready to burn / thick at the base of black spruce whose gnarled // boles tilt as the ground beneath them slumps / and gives in fine spring heat come two months / too soon [MBC 56].
…the most shallow / depth of snow on record in all our winters [MBC 44].

And in the silence of the night the small sound of small feet making their way into words.
The relish of which was going through it to the next field where a trace of the old land was
a remnant.
Both talk of motherhood of milk-white nights
taking language and making something other of it. The capture of poetry.
The languageness learning to language.

The carefulness of thought in slippages over black ice.
The carbon of the burnt world.
The soot of history and the sometimes demands of motherhood.
The hardness underspelled with native perspective.
Or overspelled with what was spoken
or the howspelled
of mixed linkages—

Milk black oppositions of such things that could be said.
The dissolving of the wholeness of language to find between the cracks the space that is there.

Black cottonwood limbs frame the strath / hung already with snow [MBC 46].
…row upon row of peaks like teeth, like winter furrows, / snares of white. The improbable order of ash and snow [MBC 51].

Our sky awash from one ink to white [MBC 49].
The contraries that hold necessary balance to the life force of these pieces [MBC all].
…on the black branches / of the white birches [MBC 43].
Light and darkness. The chiaroscuro of charcoal and chalk drawings on the walk in new shoes trying to keep from being scuffed.
Yet—the mind, too— / erratic, distracted, is discontinuous at best [MBC 38].

Last season a white spruce / split in strong wind… Cramp bark, viburnum, / misnomer. A darkblack / cloud / above open water [MBC 39-40].

Both collections vibrant and brilliant
in the fluorescent marsh of the shoe-store
x-rayed like seaweed or branches of a tree. Resolute as crack-lines in the ice.

With invisible stars we share blood. // Those seas, increased, / might scour and reflect— / those seas, increased, // rephrase us [MBC 23].

It is form and form as much as grasses if Andrew Myrick in Alaska would have said— let them eat the sea.

Diane Glancy is professor emerita at Macalester College. Her 2017 books are the poetry collection QWERTYUIOPASDFGHJKLZXCVBNM (The Keyboard Letters), Mary Queen of Bees, a novella about Mary Wesley, sister of John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church, and The Servitude of Love, a short story collection. In 2016 she published the poetry collection The Collector of Bodies, Concern for Syria and the Middle East. In 2015, she published the poetry collection Report to the Department of the Interior, which won the Willa Award from Women Writers of the West. More from this author →