Under the ironically employed pseudonym Constantin Constantinius, Kierkegaard once remarked that “repetition and recollection are the same movement, only in opposite directions.” Marilyn McCabe’s award-winning first book of poems, Perpetual Motion, is a well-crafted conversation between surrealist and existentialist ideas on the human condition and its transformations. In a sequence of kaleidoscopic collages that negotiate darkness and light, memory and repetition, art and life, and human relations, McCabe creates magnetic tensions between linear and cyclical notions of time and being with artistic dexterity.
McCabe’s book opens with the section “Considering Magritte” that visualizes a selection of paintings by Belgian surrealist painter, René Magritte. Met with striking juxtaposed images, the poem “(With a Grain of Sel)f-Portrait” begins with the following lines, “A gaping hole / where face should / be an unripe apple.” It is the poem in its earliest development, an im-pulse of creation on a black canvas with a vision of a sel-f as small, hardened, and dark on the backs of
some wooden wings
to weather storms from
sea, some clouds to stuff
in holes like bread
so the darkness doesn’t
In “If Beauty is Just the Beginning of Terror,” darkness becomes a glaring presence
like the way the wind came
one day after Dave died
in a flurry of bike and deer …
and the ghastly sun like an operating lamp
on the glowing insides of a patient
the place where no light should go.
In a gesture of Romantic irony, the speaker draws on a recollection of an image of a scene that is aesthetically reconstructed under a scorching lamp. And yet, at the core of terror lies beauty poised on the eve of darkness and the dawn of an uncertain light, a cupped bird “in your mortal hand” where “every / fresh pulse a surprise, / seeking the return, rich / and weary: the beautiful blood.”
McCabe’s striking imagery in this book of poems accentuates dichotomous concrete and abstract relationships; leaves and paper, and trees and wood are recurring tropes as she contemplates the human condition and its transformations. The cupped bird becomes the jay in “Origami.” The surprise of the jay’s paper-thin pulse and its abstract beauty is layered by a concrete “… awful mess / of feather and blood and / the split of tiny bones / that opened in you.”
In “Le Movement Perpetuel,” a baby lies “in the crisped litter / of a roadside wood,” so still in comparison to a neighbor that “fires up the leaf blower again.” Then, in a moment of emotional intensity, the speaker recollects a photograph of a wounded boy, “Eyes of the one holding the limp body / the grainy surface as of stone / or pigment made of rough powder.” In an attempt to de-intellectualize the emotional drive towards violence, the speaker turns to a random act of kindness as the hated neighbor is rescued from a burning house on a beautiful summer’s day, “all gasped and choked in the smoking air.”
In the “Memory of a Voyage (Magritte)” in the final section “Entr’Acte,” there is a dim recollection of “repeating lines we thought we knew” as
collection of the recoll-
ection is clear
as the lines that frame
the frame of the
photo on the wall.
MARCIE NEWTON is currently a full-time visiting instructor in the English Department at The College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY, and an adjunct instructor at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Albany, NY. Her most recent article, “‘I Love You; I ‘ate You’: Oral Aggression, Consumed Subjects, and the Creative Impulse in Antonia White’s Autobiographical Novel, Frost in May” was published in PsyArt in October 2013.