Poetry / Page Hill Starzinger
:: L’Esperance Trail ::
St John, VI But then a second storm—and even the slight path carved by deer hooves and iguana claws drops off, into landslide, tumbles down to broken Cretaceous basalt, micro crystalline chert. But we are caught at the top of the spill, thorny vines wiring a dry forest with barbs. This is nowhere, a washout. Where land once was, now a map of empty space. But look at the mosquitoes, sulfur butterflies, and pearly-eyed thrashers threading their bodies through invisible scent tracks sifting above prickly pear cactus, wild tamarind and turpentine trees leaning over the edge. As if, to show us another passage is possible. Oh, but, look how my mind is always expecting to find a way down.
:: Physicists Simulate Sending Particles of Light into the Past, Strengthening the Case that Time Travel is Possible ::
Oh nameless one. As yet unnamed. Though left unnamable— of unconceivable colors: inwrought with flowers. Nomen nescio, Prenom nescio. Nescire. Walking backwards and forwards until the flattened turf catches sunlight and becomes visible as a line. I would teach you how to cross over bunny ears. Rabbit running around a tree. Hiding from a dog, jumping in the hole. —As simple as a track in the snow or a stone circle— everything I could not. May not. Will not. Want.
:: Breaking Wheel ::
And so we believed: Hanging cathedrals down from heaven, blind pierced traceries— circular, compartmentalized stained oculi, looks like a rose, named for the Saint we sentenced to execution on a spiked wheel: Catherine. Bones of collars, forehands and toes, spurred magnificence, splayed with lavender veins like lacework: I tear apart the prayer bead pods, spilling scarlet poison over the thin luminous place where mothers hand us their habits. Not only because of the girl who lost her sight carving 100 ivory elephants to slip into red rosary pea-seeds. Or the mother hawk’s breaking femur as metal wildlife bands and fishing wire constrict her leg. Or the daughters in a small town awakening from naps—stuttering, twitching, arms flailing, uttering strange sounds: hysterical epidemic. It’s no longer to have to follow the father. To see the mother falling, splintering our looking glass. For her to fall again. To lift her up. For her to let me.
From the writer
:: Account ::
An astrologer told me this year that I’m in the middle of the Eighth House, a period representing transformation and death. Whatever you want to call it, I can report that in the last year my parents both passed away, I quit my job, and I left an industry I’ve been a part of since 1980. I am now free to create a new world more reflective of myself and who I want to become.
“L’Esperance Trail” was written in response to the aftermath of two Cat. 5 hurricanes on the Caribbean island of St. John in 2017. My visit this past spring, the seventh, was notable for the alteration of landscape and town. Hillsides were washed away, and more than six months after the catastrophe, three quarters of the houses still only have blue tarps as roofs. But there’s a whole world to which our senses, especially as tourists, are not attuned. And that is where I look in this poem for finding a passage out of shambles.
“Physicists Simulate Sending Particles of Light into the Past, Strengthening the Case that Time Travel is Possible”: As I come to terms with the notion that I am the last of my family, having no children of my own, I mourn the loss. I keep going over it in my mind, trying to come to terms with it, imagining different outcomes. I never considered names for a child, and in reading about miscarriages, and the mourning of them, I’m struck by how little I imagined of my own daughter or son.
“Breaking Wheel” is a bit more specific about the path to take from here on: it involves letting go of inherited beliefs, including patriarchal, so destructive that one could lose sight and vision. When I started this poem, my mother was still alive but our relationship was shifting. I was mothering her rather than her attending to me. At the same time, I was reading about high school girls in Le Roy, NY—each with unstable familial relationships—awakening with symptoms of hysteria.
To communicate the thematic slippage and narrative instabilities in these three poems, I’ve made my lines precipitous, plummeting vertically, enjambment spiraling downward as words veer and skid, constellating around different degrees of white space, depending on subject. “L’Esperance Trail” has the most regularized lines, flush left, while the right margin spills toward a moment of self-discovery. Here, a “stepping off” of lines follows the narrator’s sudden awareness, offered in an aside. Somebody recently suggested this contrast between control and chaos may be a signature of my writing.
“Breaking Wheel” tumbles, but through a pattern of mostly six-line stanzas, to offer containment to thoughts, also to acknowledge thematic restrictions to which the narrator is responding. Maybe grief calls for more white space. And so the third poem, “Physicists Simulate Sending Particles of Light into the Past, Strengthening the Case that Time Travel is Possible,” descends through a page where white space carries equal weight to lines, giving pause, giving voice to the unsayable, unnamable, inconceivable. At least, that’s the idea. That’s the hope.
Page Hill Starzinger’s first poetry collection, Vestigial, was published by Barrow Street in 2013 (winner of the 2012 prize judged by Lynn Emanuel). Her chapbook, Unshelter, was published by Noemi Press in 2009 (winner of the 2008 contest judged by Mary Jo Bang). Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Kenyon Review, Literary Imagination, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, and Volt, among other journals. Her first book review is live now on Kenyon Review Online.