Landscape of The Wait by Jami Macarty (Finishing Line Press, 2017)
Reviewed by Michelle Mitchell-Foust
Derived from the ancient word for “watching,” waiting seems especially relegated to the human animal. Waiting implies the existence of a thought process as well as biology–a stasis, a trance. The state implies a wish, as a reaction to time and action. It makes sense that the literature of waiting has ancient origins, and that the sub-genre thrives during war. The world’s most important epics are also part of the body of the literature of waiting. The Odyssey and Penelope’s wait, and The Aeneid and Dido’s wait are two of our most essential examples. Naturally, the literature of waiting thrived during World War II, when Yehuda Amichai wrote the marvelous poem I heard him read in Hebrew and in English at the Hillel Center at UCLA in the 1990’s, where he said, in essence, that the war was not worth the poems made by the light of warfare. It begins
Out of three or four in a room,
One is always standing at the window.
Forced to see the injustice among the thorns,
The fires on the hills.
Canadian poet Jami Macarty has written a pain-staking and breathtaking addition to the body of literature whose source is waiting. In her chapbook Landscape of The Wait, the reader responds to the enormity of a wait for a person, in this case a nephew, to come to after a car accident. She sets the stage for a dramatic poetry in “Fracture,” “where the family paces waiting’s room” [sic]. This first poem in the collection resembles a medieval epic, featuring the familiar white trail (i.e. the fracture) down the page. Macarty’s contemporary “hemistiches” imply a lump in the speaker’s throat as much as they give image to the broken body of the loved one, William. Macarty writes:
how many more words can be gotten into this day
no change the update said abnormal response
that’s thinking or
where’s the feeling of being early yet
let him take his time
Taken horizontally, these lines provide a disjointed script for the actual situation. Taken vertically, there is still the skeleton of the narrative/situation and more upset, more shrapnel to characterize the emotional state of the speaker. Of course, the scattering of the words on the page is Macarty’s way of representing time in chaos.
When we are waiting, we are adjusting perhaps to the Other’s time frame, or trying to, as the speaker of “Fracture” implies. Macarty’s “Fracture” also reminds us that our sense of time passing warps during waiting. Generally, it slows. The speaker looks for answers in calculus (“where all variables equal X”) and in nature for the devastating trajectories that left a young man comatose. The poetry itself slows to a beautiful and bold lyricism whose music is repetition and whose imagery is surreal. This makes sense;trauma creates rumination and a break in proportionality. Macarty writes:
where bats lord near barn
three suns where
no change no change
These words provide an echo that gives expression to rumination. We are reminded that machines read the signals echoing throughout the body when the body cannot speak.
There are of course times in Landscape of The Wait when the speaker/the poet speaks directly to William. She asks him to “row back to us,” and she asks that he
outwater the water
the fanged rictus of stars
field’s transformed by overturned car
depended on his landing
In this section of “Fracture,” and others, Macarty transforms the field, the landscape of the accident, into water, as water might have made a better landing for her loved one’s vehicle. Macarty reminds us that the language surrounding water vessels may provide a different mood, akin to coma. In her poem “Aground” she refers to the family’s predicament as a “ship aground,” and she continues the metaphor with the “rocking” texture of the following lines: “horizontal hulk afloat mud flat,” and
we keep thinking we will wake
from this tanker
and the sea will be a magic again
Macarty extends her nautical metaphor into her dream sequences in Landscape. In “1st Dream Since,” she writes, “between showers, getting ready to go to the hospital”….“The son is elsewhere/both in dreaming and waking. They’re none of them ashore yet.” And just as the landscape changes from earth to water in this collection, so the language shifts further as a result of the length of the wait. Medical idiom seeps into the poetry. In “Two Strains,” Macarty writes of her nephew’s “ventilator like a mother,” and in “Ejected,” she uses language like a hammer, “bang/my basilar skull.” In “Dear World,” she writes, “Right parietal bone removed. Cerebral shunt,” a blunt language for potential medical rescue and a nod to the comfort of humming machines.
The dreams continue throughout the collection, accounting for the different possibilities for the comatose William. One possibility is his waking. One possibility is his sounding off. One possibility is the magic of tragedy never having happened: “Dear Ground, undo skin mapping the gravel grid, undo the/unappeasable weight of body landing.” In Macarty’s hands, these possibilities can all be true, which is the role and the grace of poetry.. Poetry is where we find our monsters. Teasing a beloved man out from between the worlds, Jami Macarty proclaims,
Find the monster. It’s sleep.
Find the monster. It’s death.