by Katey Metcalf
I'm a sucker for works about perception.
Well, yeah, everything is "about" perception in some way, I guess, but not everything focuses on perception or emphasizes the vagaries of an individual's worldview. I think I like the ones that do because I feel like it has something to do with self-awareness.
'lightning/lightening' is Katey Metcalf's first chapbook, a collection of 11 short poems. As far as I can tell, it's about a summer afternoon where a brokenhearted woman steadily goes crazy over her memories.
Metcalf's speaker constantly identifies herself with rain and darkness, and her ex-boyfriends with dryness and light. She is the moon and they are the sun, constantly battling. She seems at first to be on the losing end - the christmas lights illuminate everything and burn out her retinas — but then she's a bear — "your storm! your tombstone!" — and the tides — no pun intended — seem to turn.
Why is light bad? Maybe she feels like her ex-boyfriends only shed light on her flaws, and she's having an extreme reaction. I don't know. Light is just bad. Not everything needs an explanation; people are irrational. I feel like that's kind of the point here. Metcalf's speaker is very, very irrational right now. I mean, she identifies as a bear. No matter how you justify the image, that is pretty crazy. And if that doesn't convince you, then, well, she hears voices.
At the very least, she realizes (remembers?) that her end goal isn't merely to dissociate herself from her bad memories:
the moon is like polyester— not as good as you thought it would be. remember that this is not a door but a bridge.
Perhaps she realized (remembered?) that the moon is a scion of light from the sun. By accepting that and then eating the sun, she's overcoming the conflict and internalizing both the good and bad of what is probably inescapable illumination. After all, with every storm - with all the rain - comes lightning, temporarily
'lightning/lightening' reminded me of 'i am like october when i am dead,' Steve Roggenbuck's chapbook from 2010, but that's a very facile and flaccid comparison. They're shooting for different things - primarily, Roggenbuck for ultraminimalism and Metcalf for baroque minimalism. Roggenbuck (wanted each word and sentence to have an emotional impact, while Metcalf, I feel, wanted this to be more of an "emotional wave" (no puns no puns no puns). I mean, I don't think Roggenbuck would've led with a poem as apparently disconnected from the rest of the work as "an introduction" seems to be.
But that's not a bad thing. I feel like it gives Metcalf's speaker an identity outside of her broken relationships. She has desires and goals; one day she might be a successful artist with a lasting influence on the world.
I feel like I'm only scratching the surface. It's a wonderful little rabbit hole of a chapbook.