Jessica Fisher’s Frail-Craft is winner of the 2006 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition and judge Louise Glück’s fourth selection for the series. The book and the dream are the poet’s primary objects of investigation here. Through deft, quietly authoritative lyrics, Fisher meditates on the problems and possibilities—the frail craft—of perception for the reader, the dreamer, maintaining that “if the eye can love—and it can, it does—then I held you and was held.” In her foreword to the book, Louise Glück writes that Fisher’s poetry is “haunting, elusive, luminous, its greatest mystery how plain-spoken it is. Sensory impressions, which usually serve as emblems of or connections to emotion, seem suddenly in this work a language of mind, their function neither metonymic nor dramatic. They are like the dye with which a scientist injects his specimen, to track some response or behavior. Fisher uses the sense this way, to observe how being is converted into thinking.”
About the Author
Jessica Fisher is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of California at Berkeley. She is coeditor, with Robert Hass, of The Addison Street Anthology. She lives in Oakland.
Read an Excerpt
By Jessica Fisher
Yale University Press
Copyright © 2007 Jessica Fisher
All right reserved.
Because the valley spreads wide, ridged with the signs we read; or because what we needed was always at hand- reach down and there was a book, there a slipper, there a glass of ice cold water. Hopefully we walked the paths laid before us, there was a burr-bush, there a blue jay, quail and other creatures, too many to follow. Where did they go once we lost their lead? Which is to say, where did we not go? Quick, quick, they called to us, but we heard only the sound of our boots on dried leaves, and were mesmerized; we spoke to one another of things in the path, we chucked to our horses, when we had them, and when we had hats we took them in our hands and hallooed to the passersby (brahma bull, bright green bird) though we were not yet out of the wood, instead it closed in around us, deep were its streams and the trees thick around and thick together, and we were lost and led our horses and called out for a guide until our voices grew rough and we decided we'd better save them. We tried to climb to a loft in the branches, being wary of night's prowlers, but the trunk tore our hands and we bedded down in a hollow, the horses' quiet whinny our lullaby. And what do you think we dreamt, there in the forest with no voice left to call with? We dreamt of the spread palm of the valley, of the path that led from ridge to ridge, past elation, and then into the forest.
Sleep falls like rain from dream
where once touch the fire's core
the storm wakes you and naked you rise to move from warmth to wind & rain
Above the rooftops, thunder
First you were hungry, then you were in love and thought everything had changed, oh the sun and the birds hidden in the trees, their presence proved by singing. Happiness, you thought, was given freely, the balance books with their neat columns and faux leather covers had nothing to do with it: this was not like a wartime grocery, everything given but on the short leash of credit. Abundance and glory: that's it, it's been here all along and as in the song the lovers sing as they cross the bridge, you just didn't see it, didn't hear it, before. You are willing to believe in a world where violins begin to bow of their own accord, where a phrase turns into a refrain and everything rhymes. Go ahead, ridiculous one, say it's the springtime of the heart.
First you were hungry. Then you were in love. Miraculous transformation, the path between a labyrinth. Once you walk blinking into the sudden sun, know the two will always be twined. It is an outrage and you are outrageous in your failure to distinguish between what ought to be opposites, love and hatred, for example.
A RIDDLE FOR THE BODY
What belong means- first question and first sorrow. What comes into the mind and sets up shop as truth, unrattleable, sure as sugar is not salt (that your body isn't yours wasn't yours to give away) and all that thus far hasn't bothered to make itself known appears, pilots finally quiet, Klamath Lake, Crater Lake, the Columbia River like a disjointed finger, past Portland fog and finally the sea, and the sentence enters Beneath us is ocean, the children have perished- but because the river leads away from the source, moves toward open water, the ocean's swell and break will never lead back home, and though it would be now or later- the boat leaving port, waves taking the bow- if you don't know where your body belongs, you will bring sorrow, and if you don't know to whom, it will be worse- What do you have to say about that?
1. SPIRAL JETTY
Light on water isn't a thing
though it lures the fragile eye toward blindness
glints along the line that links body to the disembodied-
The jetty begins underwater, reaches the unfortunate, unseen ground;
the jetty is underwater-
we followed the shimmer of mica because the account of their camp had mentioned a quarry; waist-deep in water, we swore we felt the mounded stones.
What the jetty is like- gone, because the beloved is gone-
What would you see, if you saw it? a stone, stones, desire's dizzy spiral, that leads from ground into the groundless, the deep, the windy water.
2. SUN TUNNELS
Site: where the particular falls-
but it was not here he fell-
nothing to recommend this place
a ghost town
down the road, a bar, the one motel
and yet here's as good as any since site first meant sorrow, grief, trouble of any kind-
here's all kinds: heat and wind and cold, land parched until the floods
but how to frame the view on nothing-
a concrete channel
apertures for the sun- and for the eye
a lens to pry it open-
Because, despite the eye's illusion, parallel lines do not converge: so it was that we walked the canal in tandem, you on the north side, I on the south. I watched as you stooped to fix your shoe, as you took off your jacket, then put it back on again; I knew you were cold, too, when the wind came, and the rains, and then snow, sleet, hail-such offense taken, though there never was a crime, never the imagined tryst in the summer canal, our bodies pale against the nightblack reeds. But if the eye can love-and it can, it does-then I held you and was held.
What relation has truth to this: morning and you're holding me, morning and you've gone? To work, and yet the heart welts.
Words we need in our language: damals, Einmalig
although I don't remember who spoke, who was silent. I don't remember what the one who spoke said. I don't remember our room, but there were dolls, a trundle bed, a child with scarlet fever. It did not blind her, though I wanted to be the sister of a blind girl, I wanted to be the eyes through which she saw.
There was a gash in my leg, that I can say truly, I still see the scar.
Although here and now is the medium you move through, then and then is the time of your verbs, every one of them conjugated, forgetful of the infinite which was their tense when they began and which they yearn for.
Most unfathomable, that my mother once lay with you in this room or that, knew your knees and palms, each and every story of each and every scar- to see you sitting side by side on her back porch, eyes averted, tension in your shoulders, a parley between rivals tired of war, splitting the kingdom. If you hit, who you fucked, is not my business. My business is to imagine the sweat of a June bed, your bodies touching, fervent, then at rest; my business is to stoke that fire, though what I remember is the door locked in the storm, someone yelling, and the years of trying to wade through two versions of fourteen years, time during which I was nothing, then a dream, then vision coming clearer. Then prosecutor, judge: tell me did you, tell me did you, and finally struck at your amazement. But I want to think that what happened doesn't matter now, so long as I can imagine June in a valley at the foothills, a double bed in a small green clapboard house, a child almost two sleeping in the next room, and while the night brings cool, the bed is hot.
THE BORROWED DOOR
It began with a lesson: how to listen.
Then, the chorus, a brouhaha as they taught me to call it, but it was only the dogs, the birds, I understood.
The latter were kind to me, after a fashion, when I couldn't decide what to wear, having lost my suitcase.
Though my host still had a taste for the exotic contrapposto, for the frame that opened onto the open secret
it was the double image that entranced-
we fought for our own reflections in the foggy bathroom mirror though even our names rhymed
and took turns wearing the green sweater, the incredible feathered hat
and fell in love with versions of the same man, according to the pact.
So I found myself in castaway clothes, a prêt-à-porter that led me through a borrowed door
into the high-hedged garden's long alleys, halls that looked like the halls before.
The bottle's label peels; pears on the table turn toward the sun. And in the cities of dead
-no, they are singing. Rain slicks the pavement with sky, stone hums in the heat, and you'd like to be able to say one of these, please:
avec ceci, a body of which one might say, ici suis-je-
curve of the breast in brushed velvet beside the generic shapes:
red triangle, the black square. The reflection suggests
that there should be address. Otherwise, why the black dress?
I knew how to ask directions to only one place and that's where I went
but words that might have been puns flooded the living room
and on the coffee table the tureen and sugarbowl were arranged as a skull, the hinged jaw unhinging
we made tea for people who never came
we drank it
NOW - THE PARADE
Now-the parade. Lions, red, black & yellow. They never go anywhere without a drummer, & also have someone to carry extra oranges, & a hat carrier, for when they're tired. If their heads are bare they can be bonked with a stick. A few of them are even beginning to sprout some whiskers, which makes them grown up and disconcerting. Pierrot, little Gilles, les Paysans, les Marins-they're forever stopping, forming circles, sort of like puppets. They never walk-always this little dance. Even some babies take part-those with rich parents I guess. Then all the baskets are empty and supplies are gone.
A one-sided travesty. I
hope we make it.
A most un-like non-grey color- We are dedicated to the Fat. Ann let me teach her the moves-that takes up time too. In real life, this house needs cleaning.
My interest and tolerance for family things is very high. In another way it is good. Whatever the balance, one would enjoy the things we would dig. I find whole periods of your histories, mom and dad, or Lockheed or Bakersfield.
I think it's a neat place, especially when you see all the neat things.
I suggest it would be excellent to get back in the habit of discriminatory viewing. How children their ages acted in another age, self-image at the expense of love. For the same reason, if the riots occur I don't want to be there, because of my feet.
I spend the time contemplating my essentially dirty nature-it probably surprises you not. Primarily because of gravity-though even that constant has its problems. Which brings us to the point of fact that today this house needs cleaning.
Distinctions in values desired and values attainable:
Though I will allow you to draw your own conclusion on the above, I am compelled to tell you that yesterday the sun shone. Mounted police forced the dancers off the street. Really exciting. All the windows in the town were covered with screening for that very event. A good time was had by all. Good dinner, good people, good night.
A boy stands at the edge of the water. He wears a plastic bag over his head, it's sealed at the neck. He thinks he'll be able to breathe underwater; he's wrong. He will drown when he jumps, he cannot swim.
A couple calls to me-quick, we've seen a girl, she's by the water, she's timid like an animal. But I'm telling my father and aunts to go buy votives, soon it will be dark, the store closes soon. They are a hundred for $8 or maybe a hundred for $4-either way a better deal than you'll find elsewhere.
Before jumping the boy waves his arms like wings. He is mad, he thinks Look! I'm a bird. I am a diver with my face mask & air tube. Now he is dead. But the girl isn't dead: she's scared. I follow the couple to where they glimpsed her; halfway through the tunnel I see her cowering, though I don't think she sees me. I feign exhaustion, take my foot in my hand, drop something for her to eat, she's so thin. She takes it, takes a long time to eat it-it's a Jolly Rancher, a watermelon one.
It's a wedding but the children are dying; I'm trying to help but I haven't a clue, I can't keep them merry, can't keep them from leaping. But this girl eats my candy; she's scared but not of me.
Excerpted from Frail-Craft by Jessica Fisher Copyright © 2007 by Jessica Fisher. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of ContentsContents
Foreword by Louise Glück....................xi
A Riddle for the Body....................6
1. Spiral Jetty 2. Sun Tunnels 3. Canal Memory Burn....................10
The Borrowed Door....................12
1. Castaway 2. Inscape 3. Mislaid Now-The Parade....................16
2 The Wedding....................21
West 12th Street....................22
Dream for My Other Brother....................24
Love Cried Me a River....................28
Looking for You in the OED....................37
The Promise of Nostos....................45
The Right to Pleasure....................46
4 Debate 53 1. Conjecture 2. Against Conjecture The Indistinguishability of Brothers....................55
Reading to Know You....................56
My Russian Lullaby....................57
The Hunger for Form....................58
1. Winter Expedition 2. Downstream 3. Augury 4.Gorge 5. View from Western Summit 6. Half Stereograph of Fallen Leaf Lake 7. Pioneer's Cabin, Near Grove Notes....................67