Table of Contents
Seeing the Body by Rachel Eliza Griffiths (WW Norton and Co. 2020)
Reviewed by Margaret Anne Kean
“…her body was the only home/I cared about.”
Poet Marilyn Nelson has said “ when you go to listen to a poet read, you leave having learned not only about the poet ’ s reality but besides about the world you are living. ” She calls this “ communal pondering. ” Through Rachel Eliza Griffiths ’ exquisite fifth book, Seeing the Body, we are invited into communal pondering about the animalism of grief, hush and absence, as the poet grapples with her mother ’ randomness death, its effect on the poet ’ sulfur body and mind, and the necessity of living beyond such a monumental loss .
griffith explores these themes through a ample blend of poetry and black and white self-portraiture over three sections. The book begins with the photograph on the breed, which shows a lone female body in a bootless white shift standing deep within a narrow rock canyon looking up toward the flip. The right arm grasps the rock above her, latent hostility captured in the compressed folds of the fabric and the angle of the neck. Over this visualize is the title of the book, Seeing the Body. Starting with this first visualize, Griffiths invites the reviewer to engage physically angstrom well as intellectually and emotionally with the work that follows .
The first section, titled “ mother : mirror : god, ” centers around the death of the poet ’ s beget. The series of poems starts with the starkness of the title poem ’ s first line :
“ She died, & I – “
In that dash, and the white outer space that follows the agate line break, lies muteness. The pause exposes grief : the two of them separated by death and the speaker left entirely with the absence. “ I remember/her voice like a cornet I never want/to pull out of my heart. ” In beautiful imagination, the subscriber feels the physical impingement of the speaker ’ south grief .
Throughout the record, Griffith uses the specificity of place to draw the reviewer into her world. In “ Belief, ” the speaker brings the subscriber into the hospital room where the mother is dying :
“ You stare at the clock, the vomit-hued walls, that hush dripping in your forefront until you feel you have never been elsewhere. Your world is a sigh from the layer. A groan. Another request for ice chips…. ”
Anyone who has sat through a end watch recognizes that scene and the physical and emotional fatigue it creates .
The loudspeaker continues :
“ We never abandoned her. We went out… looking for the right food to put some weight on her smile. Her body was the only home plate I cared about… ”
again, Griffith intentionally uses language that draws attention to the mother ’ sulfur soundbox. In those references, we see the speaker ’ mho feelings .
In another poem, “ Hunger, ” Griffiths starts with what seems like an aeriform double .
“ Weeks after her death I came to the garden window to marvel at sudden picket feathers catching, scattering
past the showery glass. I looked for magic trick everywhere. Signs from the afterlife that I was, indeed, discrete. ”
The poem then moves directly into a graphic description of a red-tailed clear the throat kill and eating a pigeon. Griffith uses the metaphor of the peddle killing and eating to communicate the fierce separation she has experienced. It takes something as physically profound and intuitive as this view to regain connection with her body and sense of self :
“ …I was the prey & hawk. This was finally myself swallowing those modest, coarse parts of me ….I saw myself torn apart, tearing and tearing at the beautiful face, the throat below my claw. My grieving confront red with being precisely what I knew myself to be. ”
In the second gear part of the script titled “ daughter : lyric : landscape, ” a series of self-portrait show the poet alone in respective settings : stand in an ocean, in an grove, feet sticking out from behind a sofa, curled in a fetal position on a shelf of a buffet, huddled naked at a window. Silence speaks out from each of the photograph. The fact that no words, titles or locations are included gives the reviewer a prospect to engage in the universal linguistic process of absence. It invites the subscriber to see how grief becomes embodied .
Griffith returns to poetry in the final segment which is titled “ dear death. ” here, she branches into other areas of her life where she has experienced loss and sorrow, and besides revisits her beget ’ second death. In this incision, she shows us that grief doesn ’ thyroxine always sit quietly in a corner, even months after a death. It howls like a child throwing a fit with no restraint or decorum. But it can besides be repose, brooding, reflective, as in “ Elegy, Surrounded by Seven Trees, ” where the loudspeaker lento turns toward the future, as there is some distance from the incompleteness of the moments following the beget ’ s death. The loudspeaker says : “ Ordinary days deliver joy easily/again & I can ’ t take it. ” The time that has passed doesn ’ t make death easy, but there is room for more nuanced feelings as the speaker remembers : “ …The final way wonder itself/opened beneath my mother ’ sulfur face/at the final consequence. As if she was//a small female child kneel in a puddle/ & looking at her confront for the first clock time, /her fingers gripping the loudly, /wet rim of the population. ”
Elizabeth Alexander has said that “ poetry gets at undergirding truths. ” And with Seeing the Body, Griffiths has provided her readers with beautiful artwork and a profound way to connect to the undergird accuracy of death and loss. She invites us to sit in our own bodies as she has in hers, and to see and feel the physical bearing of secrecy, the absences caused by our losses, the tangible expression of grief : “ ….the ache/in these stanzas, these too-thin veins that silent river/our lives in blood. ”
Buy this book