I am hungry, as a reader, for a certain kind of image, a particular turn of phrase--one that feels both inevitable and strange, that clicks shut as it should but opens onto a music or landscape or feeling somehow new to me, delicious and haunting or evocative and surreal. I want this mixture of freshness and familiarity that connotes that I am perhaps a member of a club I don't remember joining, that the password has been erased from my mind but the twitch of the secret handshake lingers in my fingers, a kind of muscle memory. I want the words to feel true/True but I want to trail that truth like someone who doesn't quite speak the language or who has just woken up from a dream. I want to follow the crumb path, still rubbing sleep out of my eyes...you know?
There are so many moments in Tenants that hum with the readerly electricity that turns me on. In the poem "Clocked," lines like "[S]weat / greasing my half / sleep. That dampfur stink" (lines 41-42) sizzle with sound and with the kind of viscerality that does it for me--note, too, the verbal compression, the making of two words into one, that recurs frequently in Fisher's book and that she uses most often to create a single sensory detail. (Fisher didn't invent this tactic, of course, but her use of it seems particular, called for, and often fresh.) Here "fur" is fused with its dampness, the thing and its quality, its scent--combined because its quality is, here, what's important. In other words, Fisher gets rid of a bunch of business language (imagine "when I wake from sleeping badly, I'm sweaty and smell vaguely like a dog who's damp"--blech!) in order to rapidly infuse this moment with another without sacrificing even a teensy bit of now, of momentum. She earns "dampfur," by the way, partly because this metaphor follows the evocation of "dogs fucking behind / the house" (40-41), which in turn follows the speaker's mention of having had sex herself last night. Click.
In "Detonation," I adore the phrase "the windowpane factory" (7-8) so intensely I want to live in it, lick it, write it a thousand times on the cover of my notebook like a lovesick eighth grader. The poem, which pulls off a powerful mixture of vulnerability and bravada, also contains these lines:
I am leaving for nowhere
with a star for a heart
that sharpens its tips
against the ivory
of my ribs [...] (36-40)
And it ends with these: "I will unlock my suitcase. / I will blow the place up." The imagery in this poem feels to me imagined by that magic part of the poet-brain that turns off "no," that wanders at will (or without will?), that winds up on that foreign planet that spins its orbit around the human heart. I believe the voice; I crave the slight, heated distance between the real and the invented, the true and the True and the truly new.
There's a word in German, unheimlich. We translate it as "uncanny," but the English word doesn't contain the etymological layers or the delicious doubleness of the German. Freud uses the term to connote that which is both frighteningly unfamiliar and oddly familiar--something eerily novel tinged with something we feel we know intimately but on which we can't put our finger. In German, heimlich turns out to mean "homey," friendly, familiar, hospitable, something that, as we say, feels like home. The word can also be translated as secret, private, concealed. For Freud, then, the heimlich also connotes that which is concealed from oneself--unconscious. Unheimlich, with its negative prefix, translates literally as "unhomey," unfamiliar and--thus--strange, weird, even scary. In Freudian theory, the uncanny is the revelation of that which our psychic structure intends to keep hidden, private, unspoken, unknown--because we'll basically go bonkers if we know it. (Note: I am aided in my understanding of what I'm about to say by the brilliant Elaine Scarry's brilliant book The Body in Pain.) The single word unheimlich contains both the comfortingly familiar and the dirty secret, the home and our essential existential homelessness, the bourgeois dream of privacy and safety and its underbelly, danger, turmoil, nature, chaos. In Alicia Fisher's book, the speaker of "Detonation" prepares to travel to the yearned-for location, the place where she'll find "a man who'll carve / out [her] fear" (9-10), but love, she tells us, "is not / a life sustaining planet" (4-5). Still--she intends to go there; she packs her suitcase "with terror"--suggesting both the attitude with which she packs and the cargo she'll take along, which reads for me something like a terrible psychic trousseau. She tells us she seeks "her own murderer," her dream man; despite her apparent prescience (her own, steadily dark vision that turns at the end toward the future tense), she is irresistibly drawn to a home so jagged, so "nowhere," she has to destroy it when she arrives. What could be more un/heimlich?
I write in books--in pencil--and at the end of "Detonation" I quite unselfconsciously wrote, "Boom."
* * *
Clearly I can't stop reading this book, writing about this book. Fisher writes (in the collection's title poem), "all my neighbors live in me," and I believe her. I know what she means. It gets crowded in such a heart, such a mind. Sometimes (lucky for us, dear fellow-readers), the landlady has to open a window, and a few of the sad, sexy creatures are bound to climb out, onto the roof, smoke a cigarette, moon bathe, make out. As I read, I'm just a roof away, looking on, listening. I'm thinking--despite the evident danger--of laying down a plank, crossing over. I'm thinking of moving in.