AFTER TWO EXTRAORDINARY volumes, with two quite distinct approaches--The Cow used a variety of ingenious structures, Coeur de Lion sounded as candid and spontaneous as a journal--Ariana Reines's third volume, Mercury, is as crafty as her first and as swift an arrow to the heart as her second. It's astonishing.
Might have been a mistake to read this in a day--it's 237 pages long--but it was not difficult to do so, given its headlong momentum. It's a long, deep rabbit hole, but there's no stopping once you have stumbled into it.
"Leaves" gathers 31 mainly short poems with separate titles, largely in the voice we already know (& love): "Writing beautifully made me feel like a fake / Which is part of feeling like a person. / I began to write in an ugly way / To subtract myself from womanhood and see only / A person in bas-relief with crucial parts and cartoon / Grief." Old themes resurface: the cow, "they seal the thing / Of cheese with a lion rampant." What is Nicolas Flamel doing here, though? Why the alchemical symbols, the allusions to mystical marriage, to the transmutation of elements? The section's final poem, "Truth or Consequences," describes what we can only call a vision, though there is nothing gauzy or ethereal about it. The poem ends with its speaker "not happy at all / But glad. My secular life / If I ever had one is over."
"Save the World": Reines is dragged off, reluctantly, to the megaplex to see the film version of Watchmen, which is about saving the world, of course, and about saving the world from those who would save it. But Reines is a less concerned with the Dr. Manhattan-Ozymandias matchup than with the Silk Spectre and what women might conceivably have to do with saving the world, which leads...okay, let's pause to note that Reines gives Hollywood a bit of a scolding here, not least for putting Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" to the Silk Spectre-Nite Owl sex scene, a decision that certainly calls for scolding...leads to her pondering the work of an unnamed poet who, at least in the eyes of some of her readers and her publicists, is saving the world, though Reines seems not quite to buy it.
"When I Looked at Your Cock My Imagination Died": What does Reines's participation (real or fictional, I know not) in what sounds like the most abject kinds of pornography have to do with saving the world? I can't answer that, really, but love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement, as another poet fascinated by alchemy once put it, and if you have to love the world to want to save it, you have to love the whole world, not just the pretty parts.
"Mercury": Full on with the alchemical symbols now, presented, interpreted, re-interpreted, as prelude to a lyrical treatise--only oxymorons will swerve by this point--on self and gender that takes us to...
..."0" (or "O"? Is it letter or number? Both?), a heart-piercing account of Reines's mother.
Mercury is not quite like anything else I have ever read--reminiscent in some ways of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictée, perhaps, but not really like that, either. It may not save the world, but it's an unforgettable book.