Review by A. Molotkov
by Annie Lighthart,
2013, 77pp, $15
Now I understand that there are two melodies playing,
one below the other, one easier to hear, the other
lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard
yet always present.
Annie Lighthart’s exceptional collection contains some of the freshest and most unexpected work I have read in recent years. It begins with this epiphany, this invitation to open our ears to the second music. We know it’s there – we’ve heard it before. We still hear it now and then. Throughout Iron String, this duality of hearing/vision – the empirical and the metaphorical – this possibility to engage with our experiences investigatively, with a self-critical eye – explodes into a series of deeply human, intelligent, inventive poetic queries.
When I need to, I go into my mind, close a little door, and begin to paint
a white barn. It is huge . . .
Yes, the barn is huge if one has an imagination for a huge barn – time and again, Lighthart’s marvelous book reminds us about poetry’s potential to expand into world’s vastest, yet most intricate, most difficult spaces. This is poetry about accountability and failure, about death, about love and its painful lack, its insufficiency of power. There are no anecdotal poems here – they cut to the core. There are no selfish poems either – the kind that describes, leaving no room for interpretation. Instead, Lighthart’s words summon one into an inquisitive state, where the work is absorbed intuitively and emotionally, via its metaphorical level vs. its overt message.
There were horses in all our days.
An open white page in any book was a lean white horse.
The white horse from the barn poem gallops through the manuscript, fluid, transparent like time itself. But the open page remains: a responsibility, an invitation. How do we learn to write ourselves correctly?
And the space between – what lives there? In the middle
of the in-breath and out – where are we just then?
Is there more than silence between chorus and verse?
Is it a compressed galaxy? A pocket of time? Or perhaps
it is more like the comma, dark little hook
on which many things turn. Sometimes it’s enough
to slip into that darkness and just stand there, looking around.
Indeed, the space between. Sometimes, words describe, paint portraits, landscapes, scenes. Other times, words attempt to explore gray areas outside description. Occasionally, a silence harbors more than the sound surrounding it. Lighthart is unafraid of the space between, willing to cast an uncompromising, honest look at that mysterious territory rich with meaning – the zone that plays such a role in our existence, all the while eluding definition. After all, most of us spend our lives trying to understand ourselves – yet how many of us succeed?
The poet doesn’t answer any of the marvelous questions posed in the excerpt above. The lines flow on, happy with questions, unconcerned about answers – the kind of writing that appeals to this reviewer, who feels enriched by the opportunity to ponder the questions and to answer them in his own way.
The wrinkled towel you left on the counter
is joyously so. The loaf of bread is carefully thinking.
Sliced, it yields multiple voices.
Yes, if we are open to these voices. Are we? Can we embrace the possibility of treating even the smallest things with respect and attention – acknowledging the wrinkled towel’s authentic value and the bread’s choir? We must be truly open to the world to allow its minute manifestations to shine in their full significance.
But how do we approach this openness?
Iron String reminds us: as we explore, as we look into the spaces between, we must ensure that we are rooted in being truly human, each of us responsible for the entire human endeavor. The poet explains:
What matters most in the world – it has been tenderness all along.
We recognize two components of Annie Lighthart’s magic recipe: a hunger for the world’s most imaginary corners, and a tender touch in their exploration. Time and again, she reinforces this refined understanding of our gentle, painful role in life.
In the green drift of an afternoon,
the body is not root but wick:
the press of light surrounds it.
We are not so much rooted in the past, where we think we belong – no, our true home is the future: the light, the smoke we emit. The effect of our presence, the memory of our being. The light defines us, the only way our lives are relevant to others, reminding us of Viktor E. Frankl’s conclusion, “What is to give light must endure burning.” And perhaps, to go one step further: to be real, we must enjoy burning.
. . . suffering
– how it might momentarily ease, leaving you time to notice a field
where someone walks and seeing you, turns. You see yourself:
You stand holding a bird. It waits unafraid in your opening hand.
Many things are true, and this is one:
You were there in the great tree at morning. You were who watched
the green time unfolding. You are and were there the whole length of the song.
As your homework, consider three questions:
- What have you done to your hands to relieve the bird’s fear?
- Did you get a good look at yourself?
- How does the poet know you are endless in this song?
Iron String leaves us with an optimistic, inclusive message reminiscent of Rumi and Walt Whitman:
Nothing has been forgotten
Within the branches, the flowers wear your eyes.
To look at even one petal is to see your life hidden everywhere.
Knowing this about our eyes, we can carefully proceed through life with imagination and tenderness, listening to both melodies to ensure that our barn is as huge and as white as possible, with more than enough space for a happy bird and a joyful white horse.
Two melodies, one poet, one reader, one life, one vibrating polyphonic iron string.
A. Molotkov moved to the US in 1990 and switched to writing in English in 1993. Accepted by the Kenyon Review, Mad Hatters Review, 2River, Perihelion, Word Riot, Identity Theory, and many more, Molotkov is winner of New Millennium Writings and Koeppel fiction contests, among others. He co-edits The Inflectionist Review. Visit him at AMolotkov.com.