Come back you are not better off without me.
In Julia Cohen’s luminous Triggermoon Triggermoon, we hover in the liminal space between the domestic and the dreamlike: “a nightgown soaked in milk” appears on the first page. This tension, this duality – between our physical and our otherworldly, spiritual selves; between self and other; between childhood and adulthood; even the duality within – holds this collection taut, animates it.
Every woodsy stroll has a ladder bark-hilted to its hip
Even as it happens I know we’ll remember separately
Climbing a birch when I say tree you picture pines
These opening lines of “There Is a Naked Body up There & I Need to Touch It” introduce the conflict. We will not remember things the same way. You will see pine trees when what I mean is birch.
And the conflict is also internal as in:
I don’t agree with myself for longer than a minute
& then the guiltless sleep amongst the roots & grubs
And nature itself – this forest of birch – must be held back:
A courtyard perched in the middle of the forest looking out
upon what it should not encroach
What is visible is desired, but which may not be attainable:
You there, today I need something physical from you
What might we hope for from a slim volume of poems? A lens through which to see language anew? An image that might deepen and complicate what we think we know? A salve – however temporary – to soothe the distress of days? Here is “Manning the Creek & I Am Not Better:”
In the faceless creek I confuse height with shame
& age with how wise we go
What have you given yourself recently?
No reason to feel shame for a cause yet uncovered
I’ve discovered the false animal & fill its tracks with mud
You will not be better off holding the hirsute mask
During the panorama amends are made & the glacial
throne gives a stiff sigh easing
Who is spending the night manning the animals?
Of the little civilization we must find our native day
Come back you are not better off without me
Adopt this glance I give you
This precise moment of departure
The animals are penned in for the evening
I’m leaving the gate ajar to see what is regained
On the bank of the faceless creek
we are taller than we’ve ever been
I am struck by the caretaking – the penning of the animals, leaving the gate ajar – contrasted with the development and attention to self – aging and the wisdom that might accompany it, the tug and pull of love – you are not better off without me. The closing image brings us to a faceless creek – anonymous but also universal – and in that final line, we are rising up – a suggestion of a kind of hopefulness, redemption: we are taller than we’ve ever been.
The book has three sections. If the first could be said to concern itself with domesticity and childhood (closepins and kites, playhouses, a closet of babyteeth); the second might be thought to concern more of the natural world, or that outside the domestic sphere (preoccupations with preserving land, with forests, with saltgrass and soldiers, orchards, lakes, and “The explorer pricks the soundproof & we come tumbling out of the din / The digging begins the digging will persist & guess what breaks the surface”).
The third section seems an assertion of self. Of the thirteen poems in this section, seven poems have titles that begin with “Hello.” This greeting becomes a kind of announcement of presence. “Hello, Nostalgia;” “Hello, Interior;” “Hello, Kickstand.” This repetition becomes a kind of rhythmic plea: See me. I am here. I am greeting you. Hear me, recognize my experience: “I cannot account / for the time that has passed, but I have / lost much of it like salt.”
The sense of play, introduced early in the collection, referenced through childhood games and imagery, persists throughout. It is not surprising, perhaps, that in a section in which a self is asserted, the language of play and the imagery of growing into adulthood wrestle with each other on the page: “Take me to when we had pinwheels / for tails, a lattice to climb like the weight / of our vine” is followed by “I mistook your push for a tussle. / Nothing so tender as a camisole on a young / girl in barefoot season.”
In a poem entitled, “Fieldtrip,” domestic details are pushed up against grander gestures, as in: “I trained my first pet poorly caused stampedes & avalanches,” and later: “When I lost the spelling bee a kind teacher told me the original language was an infant sigh / & you’ll know it when you see it.”
Moving through childhood and adolescence requires courage even if we cannot give this language as we are traveling through it. Julia Cohen attempts to articulate this sensation of being between places: of seeing what is ahead and longing for it, even with reluctance to let go of what we are still clutching in our hands:
I have no bravery for the night my daylight hours are stoic &
invincible I feel prepared
& eager I have ten eyes ten hands
My closet holds my clothes the forest my animals
When we shut our eyes they are actually still open only
covered by a lid I say these lines uncomplicated so that I may
And even as we move forward and perhaps ourselves become parents, completing one kind of cycle, ambivalence persists. The final poem of the collection ends with these lines:
It’s always supper when you look up
at a parent
Beetles already pinned to the wall
A better way to finish than I have
Your light along the stairwell like a curfew
We are still close enough to youth to hear the “kitchen-yell” of a call to supper, to anticipate the approaching curfew, but far enough along perhaps, to be aware that an end is in sight. Pinned to the wall still thinking there might be more time.
Triggermoon Triggermoon is wistful in the best sense of this word – yearning, reflective, contemplative. There is great delicacy and tenderness in this collection. The image of a kite recurs and it is an apt one. Floating, guided by winds, drifting ever upward, tethered to earth by a fragile string that lets it dance against the blue of wide sky, yet holds it taut enough to wind back in when darkness falls.
Triggermoon Triggermoon by Julia Cohen is available from Black Lawrence Press
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