June 2011

Ellen Miller-Mack


The Other Place You Live by Jane O. Wayne

Getting lost, paradoxically, takes courage: you yield to the journey, savor the loss of bearings, give up control, and settle into the sensations of anxiety. A heightened sense of awareness often accompanies adrenalin surges. It they're lucky, even people with a good sense of direction get lost in their dreams. Wandering tangentially yields enthralling scenarios.

Jane O. Wayne has a good sense of direction. She gathers readers like a shepherdess, in open fields and hills. Sometimes she is up ahead on a city block on another continent, and you can barely see her as she turns a corner in the rain. But you follow. At times Wayne is leading with music, and you follow as she travels in time to "real" places and inner landscapes.

In the title poem of her new collection, "The Other Place You Live," the dream world is a place circumscribed by a constrained sense of expectations, and the past is certain to be encountered: "The night likes to find  / the  rough place, // to run a finger over a scar / until you hear / the playground-tease / or you're on the wrong bus again" and later "searching in a vortex of streets / for a certain house, // a door with no address, / and somewhere a room waiting, / the covers turned back / in childhood."

"At the Intersection" opens the book, "where the woman loses her way, / strays further and further / into the past until she lowers / the veil of a hat / in another country and leaves." The element of adventure is woven through the volume: "And all at once it's enough / just to go on -- to travel / under an open sky, like a migratory bird, / never fully settled."

In "Transported," Wayne deftly crafts the journey from the first moments after waking in the morning to conscious dreaming as she looks out the window, traveling for an instant to India, on an actual train of thought as it makes a brief stop then rolls forward.

The book is in three sections, but it defies the linear. In the penultimate poem "Stopped," grief is also manifested as traveling (and getting lost): "I might take the wrong turn / on the road or wouldn't recognize // the place or feel at home" and in yet another exploration of getting lost, we encounter Goldilocks (in "Turnabout") who reveals, "as if all along / the spin-and-shift of getting lost / was what I wanted -- anywhere / away from the map // of creases in my palms." This revelation, near the end of the book, confirms what the reader felt all along: yes, you followed the poet, trusting that you would reap the idiosyncratic rewards of getting lost and you have.

The second section of the book has a particular focus: being lost as a result of illness. The speaker is struggling to stay oriented and her voice changes; she's more assertive, more emotional, more present. It begins with "The Subtractions": "A certain name, like a dog / that won't come / when called, maybe the car somewhere / on the parking lot." And "one door after another / slams behind her, her sphere dwindling / like a ball of twine." The next poem, "What the Surgeon Says," goes beyond mere description of what happens in the encounter -- the reader experiences it in a way that is frighteningly familiar to many: "Tumor, he says, noninvasive -- / though it spreads quickly / through the room you're in / takes over so there's nothing else / to talk about."  And to complicate getting lost, now there is forgetfulness, in "Another Kind of Winter":  "do I push or pull / the door, and which way / does the key turn, which finger / wears a ring?"

The third and last section has yet another voice, addressing melting ice (climate change), trips to India and Zagreb, grief, time travel to 1938, and escaping persecution. "The Landing (April 23, 1500)" is a joyous persona poem where what has historically been a clash of cultures is instead a joining of kindred spirits.

My favorite poem here, "Writing in the Dark," does not address the sensations and lessons of getting lost; rather it focuses sharply on our often futile efforts to capture the moment in language. Are we always writing in the dark, illegibly, our clumsy hands doomed to smear and shred and crowd letters on top of each other, where the absence of light compels the writer toward self-discovery? Wayne suggests "too rickety, the bridge // between night and day" so she wisely lets go, with grace, accepting "a city, another place / I only visit once, sinks into the sand, / so by afternoon at low tide / in the marsh, all proof / has washed away." And what of "the unlatched doors, the open windows / letting secrets out?" Poets must keep their windows open, and the poem touches on the emotional consequence of such vulnerability. Wayne writes with precision and a palpable urgency to connect. The reader will be glad to go to The Other Place You Liveto enjoy this fine work that doesn't disappear during high tide or in the light of day.

The Other Place You Live by Jane O. Wayne
Mayapple Press
ISBN 978-0932412973
80 pages