July 2014

Amber Mozurak


Monkeys, Minor Planet, Average Star by Gracie Leavitt

Digging into Gracie Leavitt's first book, Monkeys, Minor Planet, Average Star is a lot like starting a garden bed. The process is arduous, but highly rewarding. If you have ever spent time bent over a garden bed, hacking away at hard-packed earth, you know what it's like to discover truth. Leavitt's poems demand undivided attention, but once you break a sweat and find your rhythm, everything shifts to its rightful place. The story is in the soil as Leavitt invites you on the walk to get there. To start the process of decoding Leavitt's poems you must first acquaint yourself with the cover.

You can't help staring at the girl glaring back at you. Draped in a brightly colored dress, eyes lost somewhere in black circles, legs displaying stark white stalkings contrasting a thriving green background, you feel like you are invading. The girl gives you nothing and she gives you everything. The image is striking and complex, a good parallel to the poems inside. The photograph intrigued me so much so that I immediately wanted to find out more about the image.

The girl on the cover is Emma Bee Bernstein. She committed suicide five years ago. It is unclear the relationship between the two women, but Leavitt dedicates a poem entitled "Reverse the charm that crushes she" to Bernstein, "who took beautiful pictures (1985-2008)." It encompasses the unpasteurized emotions that go along with the wretched state of losing someone:

[...] but daydreams concussed;

but ours hitched to hers; but the wind drowned out my question of you I know not of, she, so milk-white, implacable, both Giotto angel and Jezebel, both little breasts and big eyes, who haunted every aperture...

[...] Would we have pecked your nowhere hands, milk-white, should we have known you then; would we have shown you shade of some oak not to break on leaning in that magic house you so well loved so long before laying down your head in that same hour, not so dumbfounded as we who got on rowing.

The book is broken into five parts. Throughout, Leavitt scatters quotations from systems theorist and futurist, amongst many other titles, R. Buckminster Fuller, giving the collection a scrapbook feel of big thoughts and even bigger emotions, that all gently remind you that the time we have on earth is a real and fragile thing. Fuller's brilliance is a unique complement to the poems:

Universe is an evolutionary-process scenario without beginning or end, because the shown part is continually transformed chemically into fresh film and reexposed to the ever self-reorganizing process of latest thought realizations which must continually introduce new significance into the freshly written description of the ever-transforming events before splicing the film in again for its next projection phase.

As you sift deeper into Monkeys, Leavitt's sweet voice draws on a sour tone. She does not shy from the blunt facts of life. "Love letter to my detriment," reads like a rant:

[...] Dear fragile bureaucrat whose stylish innocence, whose artisanal ethics the mad farmer, lonely painter squelch, try, like snowmelts at the crux of metals, reveal your aerial show in which I'm complicit and my friends and our friendship considerably, grouping on kind state with mercurial vitamins sucks at the heart, neighbor babies in spring's bright muds go where the bones are farther apart like parochial valentine cloaked between absolute candles reproduces insufficient song, feeds on what floats up, munites star wreckage especially Amerarcanaan.

Leavitt's observations of surroundings sometimes seem like an out of body experience. Her point of view is elegant, sleepy, and direct...

They pad your tow road down clear to
that riven pine bough weir from where
we abseil toward caught cowslip taut
in sluice gates stuck half shut as precondition
to his down-slope sawmill pond full...

(-- Backwards compatible)

while using language as a bedtime lullaby:

Gawky, limp, akimbo, dawdles
aft rough gray-blue sky of anvil
clouds accreting, pale cicadas
divide odd air, in bottle-green
coat, the worse for wear...

(-- Paradox of heap, circa 1938)

Throughout, Leavitt etches long prose and bright metaphors while balancing erotic undertones when you least expect them:

But pond skin thin as drum paper
breaks in the end with just
one beat too hard. She dives;
you turn; I see your face
as would I on your final thrust.

(-- On the axis but across from each magnolia)

It is there, in those moments, that you get to try on Leavitt's thoughts. She dwells on themes of rural lands, lovers, birds, boozed up boys, and everlasting final moments. It is perhaps Leavitt's simplest thoughts that speak the loudest:

Book of flexible
hours, flexible doors' exquisite sills'
relief, but in another country I'm
saying too it's hard coming home.

(-- Perfect dreams of careful breaking)

Monkeys, Minor Planet, Average Star by Gracie Leavitt
ISBN: 978-1937658168
102 pages