Juliana Leslie
Letter Machine Editions ($14)

by Amy Wright

A red verb to prehend and absorb
the management and flowering of flowers
that place in boxes what they see
of themselves regarding tomorrow

We live, according to Juliana Leslie, “in temperature.” Her first book, More Radiant Signal, is a fingertip record of the current barometric pressure and “lucky we are to have fingertips.” This collection reads like an apparatus, opening and closing in an electric current of taps. What it signals is want—recurrence of hunger for more, an All-American text, pressing greedily at the edges of key notes, fainting starved into the inexpressible. If Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner cries out for a drink in a sea of water, Leslie’s speaker sends out an S.O.S. to someone, anyone in the wilderness of civilization “who is lifelike.” “I want . . . I want . . . I want” she repeats in “3:54 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time,” a shadowy figure of privation “in the middle of nowhere.” Pathos may be dead, but self-pity is immortal.

More Radiant Signal is a human telegraph, or to subvert the title of one of Jenny Boully’s works, a book of endings and endings. More stops than starts, as if the signal is determined by timed silences, it generates “a radical ambiance” instead of communication. Image becomes reference, as in “Encyclopedia,” and we are left stranded with “Tarkovsky’s ghost in water,” not to explain Tarkovsky or the conditions of haunting but to conjure the digestion of information. We play at eating, our appetites not being fed so much as indexed. Even the information we’re consuming is empty. The poem depicts “a solar eclipse” above “a Greek who brings philosophy to Athens,” then complicates their informative aspect with “the famous paradox that motion is illusory”—like meaning, slippery as a definition, boundless as the elusive.

The danger of inviting a creative reader is that one who listens hard enough to hear the foreshadow of a whistle bending around the Japanese maples gets an earful of blare at overt givens. For example, the title “Clouds are Temporary” asks too little in relation to “Illumination of the Earth for a Photo,” which suggests both the hubris of the human camera and the many lenses that mistake our reality. It may be too much to ask of this speaker, who is busy enough trying to access the “real” and trying to distinguish it from “bioluminescence or whatever.”

Leslie uses personal pronouns for impersonal referents. The arc of a flower has her arc. The hibiscus is “who” rather than what or that, like the rose of Sharon and “the one pine cone . . . who knows.” Apostrophe is abandoned for the initiation of conversation between polka dot and color. If Aphrodite failed to answer Sappho and the sun at Fire Island commended O’Hara, this speaker imagines her own reasons in the inanimate objects why the “whole operation mumbles.” The I will never die as long as consciousness is possessive.

Sound here is the concept of sound; Leslie’s lyric reads the shoreline salt rather than sweeping the current. In “The Little Sound in the Middle of Simone,” we find ourselves contemplating the physical distance of the l in “Gala apple.” Bouncing off subjective eardrums, the sound effect is not the sound itself, as Rene Magritte’s C’est ne pa un pipe paints an image that is not the pipe.

Some of the lines in these poems are as slick as identity and as vacuous. Pond water slides into a housing development. A light bulb might equal a shipwreck, but not really. “Sloppy trees” in a landscape grease “movement at the level of writing.” At a certain point, however, the signal hums and cracks back: “A piece breaks off and gets found again.” The interruptions are part of the hanging imperfect present and the caught pluperfect past. Yet ultimately we are convinced that “Human beings are never as big /as the water they carry.”

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2011 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2011