A Woman Traces the Shoreline
First read: WTF? Is that it?
Second read: Oh, I get it. It’s about trying to write a pregnancy poem, and merely “tracing the shoreline,” while seated in a soulless retail shopping environment — specifically a bookstore cafe next to a Bed Bath & Beyond still under construction and covered by scaffolding. A little meta, but O.K. “This is ritual.” There are seagulls and a woman picking through a dumpster. There are dreams and cravings for poems by women, and there’s a desire to “include too much.” The shoreline when it first appears is a metaphor for “the edges of heat rash … from shoulder to fingertips.” A few pages later “She waits, tracing the shoreline of her body, a heat rash of expectation.” And two pages after that, “I trace the shoreline of my own exhaustion. It grieves me to prepare so effectively.”
Interlude: I hear a barred owl through the closed door and step out onto the porch to listen. It’s gotten a little cool out. Venus glimmers in the west. After a minute or two, the owl calls again; it’s very close. Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all? A pause of another couple minutes, then it calls again, still from the same location. That expectant feeling, attention focused but relaxed, staring into the darkness as if that will aid the hearing — then, intellectual that I am, analyzing this, still clutching the open book in my left hand like a talisman against the night. Once more the owl calls, then silence. Is that it? Yes. Yes it is.
Third read: This spare prose-poem spread out over 17 pages is about expecting, in the broadest possible sense. It only makes sense then that it would challenge our expectations of what a poem (or sequence of untitled poems?) should be. Is it, are they, finished? Clearly not. “I coexist. I am becoming, they tell me, ‘wholer.'” “This rash, these shore birds. Scaffolded, skeletal.” Shorelines themselves are never finished, perpetually under construction by waves and currents. One stands on the shore to wait for the ship, for the hero without or within. “I feel the hero fighting. I am the hero fighting.”
Waiting is a kind of kenosis. Her cookies eaten, the narrator faces “the empty plate, page.” She stares at her “belly and breasts, crumbling shoreline of retail need.” The last words on the last page suggest that this has, after all, been a quest narrative: “We quest and billow. We wait.”
With just a few sentences marooned in the top part of each page, it occurs to me I’ve been following a shoreline back and forth through this oddly affecting and thought-provoking book.