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Lug Your Careless Body Out of the Careful Dusk
by Joshua Marie Wilkinson

University of Iowa Press, 2006.
Poetry, paperback, 104 pp.

Reviewed by Alexis M. Smith


Freud talks about “screen memories,” small insignificant scenes like photographs or short movies in the mind, that symbolically cover more significant, often traumatic, memories. These fragments are covert operatives: benign, threaded through with ordinariness, they flicker mysteriously through the subject’s mind, marking not the mundane, but the specter of loss. Joshua Marie Wilkinson subtitles Lug Your Careless Body out of the Careful Dusk “a poem in fragments,” a subtle suggestion to the reader to beware the screen of the page: what appears solitary, out of place, fragmentary, is in fact framed, placed. Wilkinson is a filmmaker as well as a prolific writer, and this book craftily borrows the grammar and syntax—the means of expression—of film. The page becomes the screen onto which Wilkinson projects images in brief, intense sequences, like shots. The accumulation of these sequences, in concert with Wilkinson’s carefully drawn themes of the liminal, the stolen, and the cumbersome, create a book in which image and language resonate on the same deep, psychological level.
      The seven parts of Lug Your Careless Body, each a series of fragments, are edited such that meaning is made by suggestion, by inference, and by half-remembered links. The opening sequence, “A Moth in the Projectorlight,” begins, “Even if only in photographs—,” and from there, the scene of a tragedy emerges—the establishing shot:

a laundry truck, seconds after.
Phone in the apartment ringing
above the accident & a coroner
careful enough to stay speechless
until the wind picks up

The next shot: a boy rescuing a moth from the bathwater, then releasing it. These are the fragments given: light, sound, water, an insect, a boy half-in, half-out of the bath. They play out like the opening moments of a movie: a tragedy juxtaposed with the boy’s innocent, hopeful gesture. The “I” enters next—the author, or the subject of this narrative, who is, in his own way, an actor: “This is the part of the story where/ you leave/ & where I come in.” This line seems to say, “You may put down the book, you may slip out of the dark theatre, you may stop replaying the memory, but the scene will continue.” The subject’s experience of memory becomes a communal experience in the second-person address that begins soon hereafter and appears throughout the book, thus: “Memory opens a little door: the dark/ & you listen with your eyes.” The speaker addresses himself, perhaps, and the reader. Memory becomes a narrative process, and a lyrical one, dependent on the ways in which we “read” the images presented to us.
      There are moments throughout Lug Your Careless Body in which we realize that the words have become pictures, and the pictures play themselves over and over again, like particularly vivid dreams. Images of water, light, ladders, thieves, and boys recur. Wilkinson works with fragments in a stunningly precise way, editing carefully so that every word feels heavy with its own sound and meaning.

Nobody’s silence but my father’s is a comfort to me.

* * *

Toward the coast of
black tea & rain.

* * *

Smog murk, faint shadows, fried tripe on the street
& the color yellow
linger just about everywhere.

In the selection of images, Freud would argue that the mind is discriminatory, it is cunning. Wilkinson’s presentation of fragments, with its attention to particular details such as light and color, scent and spatial relationships, replicates—while drawing attention to—the particular way in which the mind collects and transforms words and images into sensory and emotional experience. The father, mentioned casually, becomes an important figure, one whose “silence” pervades the scene of which he is not a part, though the “smog murk,” and “fried tripe,” may be the details to “linger.”
      Something happens when two objects appear side by side: they become linked in the mind, and—through synapses, nerves, layers of memory and fantasy—in the body. Montage works this way, as do the fragments of Wilkinson’s poem. Wilkinson compounds images and words: first seemingly unrelated scenes, out of context, unexplained, spliced together. Then longer scenes within the fragments, themselves composed of compounded images.

In the apple orchard, dragged—
Well…somebody did, thick bootsteps
in the bee mud, a dog dead
& carefully scooped away Sunday’s
grass heap cuttings & left
the animal to the beetles. Carefully
scooped lumps of grass back
over & it was perfect almost. Until
my brother sneaking to meet a girl
heard the raccoons grunting like seals,
pawing the dog’s stiff leg out.
My brother with a white Bic lighter.
Raccoon scatter, autumn & count
until forever, then you are done.

The cut and paste action of the montage is a swift means of deliverance: delivered from the trauma of the scene, the residual feelings are invested in the memory of objects. The subject, like a camera, follows the details: apple orchard, bootsteps, bee mud, (dog dead,) grass heap. The hunger of the raccoons draws out what should be buried: sneaking out for a girl has its consequences. What can be chased away with a Bic lighter cannot be destroyed entirely.
      Then, look closer: the words themselves become compounds. Words combine to form new images, with new associations, by their linkage to each other: “bee mud,” “raccoon scatter.” Throughout the book Wilkinson cuts and tapes objects at the level of their naming, demonstrating the strange and beautiful ways in which relation makes meaning, down to the proximity of words on the page. He also compounds words no one else would, like “bloodmash,” “riversoup,” and “balconylight.” The dialectic between the root words and the new compound words erases some meaning and inscribes others. The effect is that we are left somewhere between blood and mash, balcony and light, sensing both the inadequacy of the original, known meanings, and the emergence of some new emotional and sensory association. Thus, “forgetting gets/ us back into our bodies, tipsy/ with lack, tipsy with guessing.”
      Wilkinson’s sense of the relation of words extends to the aural/oral experience—no letter goes untouched by his sense of the lyrical juxtaposition.

              Crows crumble the shadows on the porch
                                          & I drift numbly
outside for the last trick of dusk
       to stop me.

The alliteration, the internal rhymes, the long and short "o"s combine with the short "u"s to force the mouth to move around them like a long, slow kiss. The mute of the "k"s in trick and dusk: small breaths. That mute "p" at the end of stop, returning to the porch: eyes opening, lips closing. The action of drawing sounds together, creating words, is like the action of the mind combining words and images. Reading aloud changes the experience of the fragment, lending it a sensuality it might not have otherwise, adding another texture to the liminal space of the poem.
      That liminal space through which Wilkinson’s poems move—the dusk out of which we must haul meaning—lies somewhere between the desire to hide and the desire to be found. The obscurity of darkness is attractive, but the desire to reveal and be revealed is stronger. The fragments of Lug Your Careless Body out of the Careful Dusk reveal themselves, moment by moment, luring us into an understanding that goes beyond explication, or even resolution. “If each story/ depends on the part/ the teller forgets…” then the part he remembers frames the loss. Wilkinson has an intuitive understanding that what is unsaid, forgotten, or left out, leaves an impression—the almost tangible tug between the desire to connect the images and feelings, and a desire to surrender to the mystery.

Alexis M. Smith is the Reviews Editor for Tarpaulin Sky.