by Miriam Kotzin
Laurel Blossom. Longevity. New York, New York: Four Way Books. 2015. pp.72.
Laurel Blossom’s narrative prose poem, Longevity, is a stunner, one of the important book-length poems of the 21st century. Themes intertwine: family, friendship, loss, and memory. When the narrator of the poem says, “Everything is elegy,” the statement is both an observation and a guide to the reader, as the narrator provides a key to the poem: “Where it says she, it means Margaret or Lucy or my poor mother. /Where it says she, it means said. It means dead.”
Memory is not simply film: it is fragile, “brittle,” in danger of snapping: “My whole life flashing. Brittle, bitter frames of film run backwards.” The words “brittle” and “bitter” are yoked by sound; one informs the other. The metaphor of a past remembered, re-experienced, is “like clacking film.” The figure continues: “Memory catches on the sprockets of grief.” The narrator grieves her friend, her sister, and her mother—yet the poem is filled with light and bright colors, flowers.
Memorable, original images offer pleasure through their economy, their musicality, and their startling ability to revise the world: “Raindrops hanging on the laundry line to dry” and “Orange shift shimmering in sleeveless breeze.” The genius resides, in part, in departures from the expected: the shift shimmers not in the sunlight, but in the breeze; it is not the shift that is sleeveless, but the breeze.
A similar effect occurs in the images of the destruction of the World Trade Center that haunt Longevity. The post 9/11 World Trade Center lies in rubble; the iconic image of the uplifted grid becomes “Charred ruins like bones of a great cathedral, arches like hands in smoldering prayer.” The book begins with a prologue, the first line, mysterious only when we first read it—on second reading, we recognize that this is Margaret falling from the World Trade Center: “Now when she falls, she falls up, on blue, unfolded wings.” As Lucy dies of cancer, she has a “failing falling body.” And the mother’s death? It’s unknown which came first, her fall from a balcony—or a heart attack. The body is “ephemeral” in Longevity.
Blossom’s Longevity is a remarkable book, indisputable evidence that prose poetry, too, will make you “feel physically as if the top of [your] head were taken off.”