Review: ‘by deer light’, by Garth Graeper

by deer lightby deer light by Garth Graeper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yeah I’m reviewing another Greying Ghost Chap–wanna fight about it? I happened into a handful of them and they’re all great, so there you have it. As I sit here some strange older man is eyeing from the cover of by deer light with either menace or love, perhaps as if I owe him money, he’s on crutches though–crutches that appear to be broadcasting ancient mysteries and, because it’s December, synthpop Christmas music.

I opened the cover and found what looked and felt like another, smaller cover. Throughout my reading I felt very enclosed by this, cushioned in by this double-wall, a feeling that quickly seemed more and more like a womb as so much of this chap seems interested in not just the physical or thematic presence of a womb but in the emotional, metaphorical properties one might associate. Always an almost overbearing symbol and thematic shortcut for birth, life, renewal, etc., one often forgets how much distress, violence, death, and physical excess exists at the site, something I felt was being toyed with often and seriously here. I felt very cold and vulnerable reading this, and a certain kind of familial yearning / turmoil / loneliness too. I look outside at one of the first real bits of snow of the year and it feels right to be reading this chap / feeling this way, today.

“we know this fox
sitting under the tree
her heartbeat
running through us

she’ll saw apart our name
pile together the black branches
and disappear
behind them”

I can’t quite articulate the kind of expected comfort that feels, enjoyably, to be missing here, the lack of an expected warmth, perhaps maternal. It’s not so much as absent as hazy, perhaps disfigured, broken–so much here is indeed broken, stretched, skinned, flush constantly with bright warm blood and gigantic hearts; we think of ‘big hearts’ in many cliche ways (Valentine’s Day, an adjective for someone warm and generous…) but really, cardiomegaly, a great big word I’ve recently learned–enlarged hearts are a, yes, BIG problem. This chap is full of these bits of the mangled, the too large and small, I feel like there are awkward, newborn limbs flailing all over, falling, cracking skulls…nothing seeming to quite fit (fit in, fit out, fit-fit).

“I had too many spines
running through me, a glimmer
of light on my tongue
you did not even fit inside your own body”

This chap ‘ends’ with something toward distant and healing, but I don’t think I believe the healing–it seems like the distancing, the loneliness all come rather immediately, as if the healing was never going to be possible. What was going to heal, anyway? Certainly not the bodies, and what hope for something more abstract? I felt the final gesture of moving apart felt actually like stillness, everything having been and stayed so far apart; when the bodies here were together, there was no real closeness, to my mind. Everything here was continually shedding apart.

“she tore up
our heart and grew it into
a small right hand
and broke it

we concentrate
on the shattered bones
while the winter
passes”

What an insane chapbook. I feel like the white, rough covers were slowly melting, or shedding hair as I read. I feel like I could read it again and be reading an entirely different book. Like the other Greying Ghost chaps I’ve enjoyed so much recently what really stays with me is that nothing sort of does–there’s always an oscillation going on, I’m never quite able to get settled, to keep my fingers on anything.

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