Don’t Look at Me: Emotive Associations Upon Reading Two Poems by Christie Ann Reynolds

By Jean Macpherson

If you have a fear of losing your mind, or swaying on the ledge, stop reading. Go read something else like Oprah’s poetry issue.  Lit Number 19, Winter 2011 features two untitled poems or sections from I’m Going to Save Your Life by Christie Ann Reynolds. These works are mean, disturbingly hilarious (or perhaps I am simply deranged), unsettling. J’adore.

First I want you to know that poem number one is brilliantly placed at right of a painting by Brian Calvin called “Music (Borrowed Tune).”[1] A slight, listless, yet sturdy looking woman stands in what could be a Rolling Stones t-shirt and overalls holding up one hand in gesture.  I cannot help but associate this figure with Reynolds work not only because they are side by side, but there is a kinship between Calvin’s art and Reynolds voice.

Poem one opens with repetitive defining moments:

Being as small as me is a very large feat. I am small, smaller than you have ever imagined even though as a woman I have very long fingers that look like it—but will never touch a piano in a way that makes it surrender.

Deceiving. The introduction is that of one who may be perceived as meek, but truthfully, the progression into power rises rather quickly as ‘we’ become part of the work whether we like it or not:

We are always living in the
                                                                                                                  same oval.

We all live in the same oval, come from the same egg, trapped under the same snow-globe where others peer in, I imagine, cajoling, pointing with fingers that can make ivories surrender beneath the delicate weight of acceptance, or the ability to lure. As the ‘I’ becomes universal ‘we’ I am drawn into an off-key dissension, a near slamming of child-like hands on the keys and finally, the cover nearly misses my fingertips as I whip them away:

            I think we are so elliptical that religion is just a way of keeping my grandmother and all her ghosts on the treadmill in the guest room.

We cannot escape the past or present regardless of how far or how much we run upon the endless belt, staying in one place, believing in the possibility of nonsense. These moments of psychosis suck you deeper into madness:

                                                               I sleep in that room and know its scent. I know its scent as if a fox has come and gone. Come and gone and into the sheets I screamed as I was coming. You know how very small I am. A very large scream, a scream as loud and howling as mine is also very beautiful if you know how to get it out of me. Get it out of me.

And maybe this is me. I recognize the punctuation, the kind of quiet lunacy that Perkins inscripted in The Yellow Wallpaper:

        You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.[2]

Bad dream indeed. In her second poem from I’m Going to Save Your Life, Reynolds hauls you (who am I kidding here — me, myself) into a sociopathic unrest as the breakdown continues:

When I said heat lamp, I meant a fucking heat lamp.

I am enthralled by various meanings and the urgency of tone: I want back in the egg. I get to try this again. They can’t take that away from me. This is my jazz standard. Give me what I want. Non sequitur, mother fucker:

                                                               You lit a cigarette and it would
Be years before I would bust your lip open with a closet door. Circumstance after circumstance you misappropriated my salute to the ocean and dropped a dinghy on top of me every time I came with my mouth against your mouth. In the event of an emergency, take the fire fighter and spray it all around.

This is already a goddamn emergency, but it is like a woman, assuming the voice is female and human (there is no gender identification which makes these two pieces all the more fascinating and contemporary) to fall into a relationship trap with someone or herself, cornered with reluctance. All you can do is fantasize about the despicable representations of your lover:

                                                               When I said fire fighter I
meant a transitional phase where all pronouns associated with you will be little smears of butterfly on the windshield.

A jarring image, a murder of something naturally beautiful. And to juxtapose this verbal shotgun fire, we’re back to the inner monologue, the self-loathing produced in the mind so you can make yourself feel better:

                                                               I disguise myself in good teeth and
                                                   dance
moves. I cloak myself in men I don’t even care about. Everyone misinterprets my pretty.

Magnificent and daring. Don’t look in the mirror; you may not like what you see. When I said mirror I meant an unearthed remedy for the watchtower. Don’t smother me. Just let go.


[1] Calvin’s painting is part of a larger selection included in this issue called “Assorted Works.”

[2] Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper, afterword by Elaine R. Hedges. New York: Feminist Press, 1973.

Jean Macpherson writes from New England.

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