Things are Disappearing Here
by Kate Northrop
Persea Press 2007
Reviewed by Jennifer Malesich
Kate Northrop’s second book of poems, Things are Disappearing Here, begins with a dream about a dog: “He comes leaping out of the closed door of my dreams–/a dark retriever.” From these actions of dream and retrieval, Northrop introduces the major themes of this collection: loss, longing, and disappearing. The act of writing prevents the erasure of memories by making their persistence permanent on the page. The surreal quality of these poems explore other worlds while grounding the reader through images and narratives that echo through the four sections of the book.
Through the process of retrieval, language fractures and breaks along the fault line of memoir—inexact, maybe a little exaggerated, but always insistent on exploring the meaning of the memory. The ability to recall becomes absolutely necessary because “things are disappearing here.” The poem “The Visitor” plays with this notion of remembrance by describing meaningless domestic habits:
in the thigh-high drawer. All day
I pair this
to that: door to jamb, foot
to shoe, grain over the gate
to a flurry of chicken but later
I am waiting,
at the sink
with my hands under the spigot, under the water drawn
Line breaks and enjambment let surprise happen in each line, which sharpens the edges of observation. The poems are risky and suspenseful, full of surprise. “The Baby” begins with an ordinary scene, full of cinematic particulars:
a white box, white
as a box
for a birthday cake. Inside,
We expect a cake in that box, not a baby. The poem “The Older House” creates the same anxiety through its wonderful strangeness that hints at something ruined and ominous:
Do we know—she drops
her voice—what people find
in outhouses like ours, out back? So sad
those limbs, those infants
The use of dream and surreal elements allow the poems enough space to be unrestrained, yet are contained through precise narratives structures.
Nature transcends the page; the world beyond the words always keeps going. “Night, Sculpture Garden” evokes this sense of the natural world posed next to a created one—“a few taxis/pass on the avenue , and further//the moon goes by, but again/ silently, a boat rowed over an empty pool.” The lovely, lonely images of “The Bedroom Mirror” underpin nature’s enlarging, expansive sense by positioning sensual human bodies below “the highest reach of the elm,/ those branches—cold,//still—which birds sailed through sailing by.” Nature always telescopes out, expanding the universe of the poem which makes the domestic world even more intimate and familiar. In the poem, “Dive,” the safe landscapes of “the center of the field” and “summers in the hedgerow” shift to the unknown depths of the sea—“this is the world which for once/ does not believe in you.”
What is striking and beautiful about these poems is their connection to each other. They haunt each other. The poem “October” situated in the middle, ballasts the collection and connects the major themes in one poem. The theme of disappearing—“he’d gone down the road—winter/already a blur in the eye”— echoes previous references. We are reminded of the dog from the first poem with “the dog chain.” A dog keeps appearing, sometimes “at the edge of the city” and again, “so white she was blue/in the center of the field, there moving through.” Here again the words, “hedgerow,” “the pond,” “that cold stone,” are used again. “Line,” in all its many contexts, threads through several poems. The repetition of these words and ideas resist being a gimmick because each time they are used differently. They serve to remind the reader of another poem, like a persistent memory, an obsession.
The poems are inclusive and generous, yet the tension, the thrill, never slackens. This collection haunts and alludes. There’s no agenda here, nothing more precious than the next. In the long poem of the book, These poems argue for the existence and preservation of memory, of people, of mere things that by existing are disappearing here. When you close the book, you can still hear the
sound of the missing dogs
for a while survives, and that is enough
to cheer us.