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Explain This Corpse

June 12, 2021

I cannot explain this corpse; neither could Hamlet. Neither can anyone, which is why the urge for necromancy is so strong.

The title poem of Kirsten Kaschock’s volume, Explain This Corpse, considers Ophelia’s fate and refuses to see her or anyone like her in the conventional way, asking “why more adored/minnow-lipped than when she/breathed air, spoke?” The female speaker of the poem declares that “my crush of crones know several rivers–/one is age” and that “us sisters/learned to swim” and have become
“deepened eel-alls we
–our slimy lengths of ladyparts slick
with the knowing-how and the not-
dying.”
Rather than admire the traditional flower-strewn image of drowned Ophelia, the speaker urges us to “quit the mown flowers” and reveals that close up, “they’re shame—the switches that welt/a drowned girl.”

This title is well-chosen for a volume of poetry that opens up more questions and raises more mysterious possibilities than anyone can entirely keep track of, much less completely account for.

How can we believe the evidence of our senses about something like evening, asks the poem “Sometimes Evening is Believable,” and part of the answer is that “night coming down hard/is a mere symptom, and dying a hard/unsimple business. Evening has always been/a preparation for having been.”

What would it be like if we took a darkly humorous observation by the handmaid of Atwood’s novel and tried to analyze it literally, as in “To Have Made Oranges Happen”? We end up asking “what is a miracle but giving/in to the grief of late-stage/capitalism? And that leads to a wish: “If you have enough/of one thing, may you get/something else and it be blessedly/terminal.”

When someone wants to feel numb but instead feels “an Othellish/handkerchief of snow” is it because “I place my face into/the face of my beloved once-removed: this is/both infidelity and punishment for it”?

Why does reading affect the way we live our lives? In the long poem “O Nibiru,” there’s a part where the speaker of the poem says “I’ve been told, repeatedly, that Elizabeth Bishop is a cold fish” and that “I feel like you and I could not have been reading the same Bishop. If you said that.” And there’s a description of reading Neal Stephenson’s novel Seveneves, when “we are fifty pages from the moment the book leaps five thousand years into the future. We joke about skipping those fifty pages.” Why, the speaker asks, do “we think we can solve every situation by adjusting personal action”?

Where is it that
“there are too many doors to come through
too many brutes coming through too many doors
too much pull and push too many thumbs on
phones texting too-quick proofs of love—good-
byes or sorrymoms—too much glass to brom up
too much blood to mop from tile floors too many
books silent-strewn across hall or class too many cool
kids pissing their pants in closets”?
The title of the poem “There are Too Many Entrances and Too Many Exits,” with its attribution to “Dan Patrick, Lt. Governor of Texas, May 2018” makes it clear where this is. Or does it? How many more “too manys” can you think of?

We may want from this volume of poems what the students in “My Students Want My Tenure” want: “they want a little bit of someone-who-admits/-mistakes from someone who never makes them” and “they want/a teacher who knows all the things so they/need not click on needless links.” But we will not get it. We’ll have to keep reading and thinking and maybe twisting words and sounds around in the lovely and lively ways these poems show us, as we continue to mull over meaning and mortality.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2021 4:45 pm

    Evening is a preparation for having been… what a great line!

    • June 14, 2021 2:06 pm

      It is a great line. There were so many great lines it was hard to choose.

  2. June 13, 2021 4:06 pm

    Going to look for this one! I love a good modern re-examination of classic literature. And I do think Ophelia deserved better.

    • June 14, 2021 2:07 pm

      I do think you’ll enjoy reading the entirety of the title poem, with its watery women.

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