CHALK UP ANOTHER great find by Conjunctions. As far as I can tell, Karen Hays has not yet published a book, but on the strength of "The Cubes" from Conjunctions 60, I can promise that when she does, she is guaranteed at least one sale in Nebraska.
"The Cubes" is an essay, I suppose we could say, but of a d'Agatan, next-American-essay kind. Each "cube"--there are twenty-seven--contains up to six passages of one hundred words, as in exactly one hundred words. Each passage has a key word associated with it, placed in the margin, along with an inscrutable three-digit number in what looks like binary code. Although each cube has six available...faces? like the faces of a die?...not all six are necessarily occupied; some are "void."
The passages in the cubes concern several different topics. Quite a few are about the first photographs to be taken from a kite, the man who took them, and his daughter, but we also hear about suicide, about plague, about Nicola Tesla, about quantum physics, about the presence of iron in our blood, about the mathematics of cubes (27 is three cubed), about the author's grandfather...
...and somehow, although "The Cubes" is an essay-poem in a nonce-form to end all nonce-forms, its structure being the most immediately noticeable thing about it, it is illuminating, moving, haunting. I will have to read it a few more times in order to have any idea why it captivated me, but captivate me it did. But before getting around to that, I need to find some more work by Karen Hays.