Discussed in this review:
• Hurry Home Honey: Love Poems 1994-2004 Sawako Nakayasu. Burning Deck Books. $14.00, 77 pp.
• So We Have Been Given Time Or Sawako Nakayasu. Wave Books. $13.00, 96 pp.
There’s a coaster on my friend’s table made by a student she taught years ago. It states in big six year-old font: MRS. H, IT IS LOVE.
This has become a bit of a catch phrase for us – good cup of coffee? IT IS LOVE. Beautiful day? IT IS LOVE. The phrase captures something about how anything can be it, and anything can be love, as long as the thing . . . wait for it . . . is.
The elusiveness of it (along with the hovering-ness of balconies, the kinesis of molecules in general and hockey in specific, and the missing of letters, of interpretation, of other human beings that one is in love with) is the subject of Sawako Nakayasu’s latest collection, Hurry Home Honey: Love Poems 1994–2004. It, for the author, is ungraspable, and so she writes from the slant of time, some past or future she anchors to in order to slip close enough to the elusive moment of which she is always having “been given.” She gives a preview of this kaleidoscope of angling in the dedication: for the lovers and beloveds, / the almost loved, also loved, and always loved / – and for Eugene[.]
So, love: it is time. Or it is about, around, inside and outside time.
The first poem in section one, Balconic, opens:
having been given corn*
having been given open*
a first time
having been given charge*
having been given heat*
This phrase, “having been given,” is both eternally in the present (having, always having) and past (been given). It lives between now and now and now. And yet, the having and the giving of all these love words—both concrete as corn or a first time and mutable as open, charge, or heat—is conditional. The asterisks are a reminder that love, like time, is always changing, evolving, or simply passing. Love in this instance is the always just happened, the having just now “been given balcony / having been given balcony.”
In “To give balcony,” the balcony again becomes the angle somewhat removed, and with railings so as not to easily fall into “a giving over of place.” It is a place from which conditionally one might “bleed and bleed so effortlessly, or bleed internally . . . as if an everyday activity,” while in all possible combinations of time and body and balcony one asks “at both instances what the fact[.]“
So, love: it is a continuum, unmappable point by point. Section two, Clutch: hockey love letters, includes visually arresting poems full of motion and desire. “Long distance hockey” is a rarely punctuated page-length prose poem whose ampersands skitter through the piece like a puck:
. . . I would
pick up some man on the street as an alter &#amp; fall into
a bench &#amp; oh the wrong bench &#amp; again &#amp; have noth-
ing to lace &#amp; I have nothing to lace or race &#amp; no
puck in the way underfoot or perfect perfect . . .
Interspersed are a series of brief, untitled poems whose rhythms, consonance, assonance, and spatial arrangements themselves recall the game:
. . . shifting loose or was this gifted –
fine [ ]play
to get off
[ ] [ ] and run it out
It makes several repeat appearances in Clutch, notably in the performance poem, “Ice Event: for 14 performers and 1 audience member,” in which Nakayasu writes:
The role of IT is to verbally manipulate the players into
touching each other until there are no more players left
and IT can be relieved of IT’s misery.
Substitute “time” for “IT.” Now substitute “love.”
So, love: it is up for interpretation. Misinterpretation. It is punning. Full of absences, assumptions and expectations. The poems of the third and last section, Crime to be Quick, are written not in the language of love, but a language specific to specific loves. This language is played out in the spaces of desire and confusion, using all of the lovers’ senses and modes of communication. It is an inter-language; intercultural and multilingual:
. . . a nap, a bed, a field of estrangement or flowers.
Mouth full of estrangement and flowers.
. . . Fortunately or not my mouth is still full of the borrowed voice.
A borrowed fullness.
In the field, a mass, a gaggle of strangers.
Nakayasu writes in “Force”:
crime to be passing
by, through, under which bridge did everything get
buried, everything as in some lofty hopeful rosebush dream for some
close future, hour[.]
Again, the inextricability of time with love, and increasingly with language. Language: that bridge, that weapon.
That shape-shifter. “An ant against time” begins:
The medium-term goal:
Rush a length of words
The consonance of “rush” turns “ant” to “rant,” while “a length of words” tumbles in the mind like an awkward run-in with (as time would have it) an ex-lover, a soon-to-be ex-lover, or soon-to-be lover. The goal, though stressed, remains an ambiguous point in time, while a pendulum swings from “long after” (note the double-entendre) to “soon again.”
Nakayasu’s talent for packing cultural and linguistic (mis)information into sound-sense lines recalls Gertrude Stein and Harryette Mullen. The best poems of Hurry Home Honey are exceedingly lovely, language-rich and dense with questioning urgency. But the collection as a whole lacks intensity. Perhaps this is why I adore her earlier book, So we have been given time Or so much and feel only so-so about this latest collection.
So we have been given time Or is a book-length poem that reads like a script. The performance as a whole writhes on the page; each “speaker” twisting in on itself as reader and speaker together navigate the “mouth full of time” and:
was shining, trilled and forthright, what was left with or what was remaindered or what was sustained . . . not wanting to get caught, caught under it, nor wanting to catch it, never having thrown it . . . who threw what out, what, what this means, what this means, where this meant,
IT: what it never meant to be.
The two books wrestle with similar themes: language and its trappings, the mapping of time and its intersections with some kind of togetherness, whether by love or motion, accident or meditation. But Nakayasu’s muse is stronger in the first. So we have been given time Or manifests like a magnifying glass on an anthill – so much repetition and near-repetition of action, word, and form. Thus having been given time to engage with this work, the reader continuously finds him/herself in the “mouth of time,” in the intersections where what matters is streaming toward itself, or colliding, or just missing. It’s a breathless affair. Hurry Home Honey doesn’t contain this urgency because it dwells on the distances between these intersections and moments of understanding.
“The good news,” Nakayasu writes in “Group,” from Hurry Home Honey, “is that suddenly there is an everyone, as well as an old, sweet intersection.” It is at this moment of meeting that it appears at its most vulnerable and stripped-down. Kinetically, it is at rest, for perhaps the first time in this motion-filled, distance-filled, intellectualizing collection. It is hard not to fall a little bit in love when Nakayasu writes:
. . . And what would I know as they unleashed the
people on me, heretofore held back by cages, leashes, traffic lights, or conscience, what would I know as they stormed their purposeful gaits past me, through me,
over, and under my arms, my very arms I still hold out as if in vanity or hope, and carrying what else but the swirl of passing people as they pass by me, through, over,
under, and beyond it all and I stand still and take it.
Ellen Welcker is a poet living in Seattle, Washington.
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