Read This: The White Bride by Sarah Maclay
I've had the great honor and privilege of getting to know Sarah Maclay over the last few years. She's also been a great influence and inspiration. Her debut collection, Whore, is one of the books I return to again and again. I've used it in workshops and recommend it to everyone. It's simply one of the best books of poetry I've ever read. Last week I was thrilled to find a signed copy of her new collection, The White Bride ($12, University of Tampa Press), in my mailbox. A fantastic gift and, as Sara said in her inscription, "a bit of winter white" for the holidays.
Maclay's work has an ethereal, stream of consciousness quality about it. Like a bridal veil, the poems both reveal and obscure, but are never so obtuse that you're left scratching your head. The White Bride is a collection of prose poems, yet there is an undeniable rhythm and musicality to the lines. The elements of fire and water are strong in this collection, but inspiration also comes from disparate art, music and everyday life: Gorecki's third symphony, Anne Boeyln, Leonard Cohen, Greek mythology, a mannequin in an LA pawn shop window.
Maclay moves from one contained moment to the next, writing in a feverish, dream-like way until, suddenly, there is the most concrete of images; it's a sensual sucker punch. In the brilliant "Let's Start with Just One Thing We Can Be Sure of," the narrator watches two people leaving an apartment building, carefully dissecting what she sees in the windows, the shape of tree limbs and as the couple descends the stairs, feels an overwhelming sense of loss. "Here's the truth: I'm lost. Curtains sag across the opened windows like tired bridal veils flung off the face and shoulder--the only way to get cool air." In "Cassandra: Engraving in Red & Blue," the mythological beauty still has the gift of prophecy, but her lover does not believe -- just as spurned Apollo intended. "How I wish I could say that when we got up we spent entire days inhaling so completely that our bodies filled with sky."
I'm thrilled Maclay is exploring prose poetry, because I'm also doing that with my new work. The White Bride is a magnificent example of the genre, and for those who don't like it, read this collection and be prepared to rethink all your misgivings.
Albumen Print from Two Negatives
We're on that road again--road that flies through the path of old-
growth sycamores--that country road, the dirt one I'd walk naked
on at night--blindfolded and barefoot, feeling my way through
the trees, brushing the twigs from my face, and here we are: broad
daylight, fallen leaves, leaves as big as your hand and scutting along
in the breeze: you know the place. Who cares anymore if you fell from
the sky like some great-winged bird? Now you seem to grow from the
earth. You hold me, clutch me, pull me, want, I think, to shackle me,
consume me--oh, I don't know what you want. I was ready to kiss
you, but you pin my shoulders to the earth. You're not malicious, just
distracted: this is what I tell myself. You might like to know that it's
muddy down here. Puddles form in the ruts on the road, as curved
as little saddles. My body is smeared with moistened dirt but I can't
help loving the smell, even as you take my clothes like a scavenger and
I glance to the side of the road--only inches away, years of green to
my left, but I glance back: a brown landscape. Inches away: what I
wanted; what I have. You who rip my clothing off may keep it. Keep
it. I may walk the road with nothing on, but I will walk it. There is a
thing called bitterness. It has a taste.