Lifted rudely from her very impressive and very new Expressway (Coach House) Sina Queyras’s Cloverleaf, Medians & Means is, like the Christian god, a three-parter with two embodiments plus an absent animus. The piece begins as a dialogic between A & B. Now A & B, as we know, often represent integers, and integers, as we know even more so, are always whole numbers whose elements are well-ordered, and whose ordering moves by addition. Addition is, as we've come to understand, our current fundamental problem: there’s too much of us, which leaves us with too little. And so A & B tell a story of infrastructure and the infra mince, wherein transubstantiations are diced and dicey, and there’s no comfort in the modern. Or there’s a specifically feminist discomfort in the way the mandate to make new has been embodied in the man:
A: Once was income levels measurements of perceived
Noise levels, probability of pollutants, percentage
Of truck traffic, thyroid levels and runoff acceptable, such
B: Levels! Much analysis of sentiment, surveys done, no
Lack of suitable data, measure location, men in overalls
Smoking, pavement uneven, concrete dividers zipping
A: and unzipping
I used the past tense, though should have stayed stuck in the present, for it’s the current that’s under critique here. Throughout the poem, these zipping and unzipping barriers—primarily to sentiment (though Queyras is invoking what Christine Buci-Gluckmann more accurately called the “senti-mental,” or felt cognition) and Euclidian specificity, i.e., to words and poems that play on all our stuttering registers—are pitched as a lopsided argument. There are no points between A&B. To this end, gerunds run into one another with a few well-wrought seams along our toll road, and the “ing” most frequently conjured is the terrible and banal “noth-” (What we make solid: nothing. What we invest in: / Nothing. / What we vote for: nothing.) But even in this select lament Queyras gives a nod to the slick and sexy substance of our absence:
A: Who can resist / the slide of modernity, of being elsewhere always, ahead of
Oneself, texting oneself—not to bring modernity into the poem,
Pristine modernity, the dream—but modernity leaks, modernity
B: Is uncontainable, because trans-nationalism presents no barriers
To the acquisition of self, or lease of self, layaway-plan self, because
Every transaction, even the most minute, considers
The implications of transactions, we don’t care for smooth rides,
We care for opportunities to change, you see? Liberty is
A: Defense of fees. The ability to charge a fee, liberty is worth
B: Changing for (we all agree)…
As you can see, all this ongoingness is goosed ahead by implanted end and internal rhymes, kept in close feet so the reader ticks to the mod metronome no matter what other siren calls (This poem stinks of dynamite. / There are ideas here you may not like.) But sirens will make you scoot to one side, and after a clipped back and forth echo (again, there’s no dialogue, or chorus, not properly, it’s a relay being run here, and in circles—the cloverleaf has no exit in either existential or exeunt terms), our integers combine to liturgize a list of commercial posts for commercial carriers, including Caution wide right turns, We hire safe drivers, and If you see something, say something. Practical pledges that read as red-ready campaign promises, more so as followed by a nod to Foucault, or Foucaultean anxiety (It’s the order of things that keeps her up at night). This “she,” as well as an errant “he” become proper placeholders: she serves as a finger that acts as a figure (pointing exists / The idea of everything), and he sets up a series of “shelves” that become selves, hung with harrowed hope, Christian by implication, nailed, gashed, and prone to transubstantiation, metaphorpoesis, that is.
(Clover denoting the trinity, and the good fortune in which you hope to be.)
Our messianic gash now flirts with Lacan, transsexing into pootangs and protrusions, then turning literally bold as A&B turn, like buds, to beauty. I’m over-indulging in name-dropping, like a rube at a posh party, but they’re all here, nibbling crudités, honing elbows, swapping bon mots and bone motes like it’s the middle of December, after the harvest, and now we’ve got Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy, because the ordinary is pronounced as basically beautiful as life itself as it triggers the tightening at the back of the knee. Ergo: Remain. The last word, and godamn if it’s not the command to stay.
And this remain leads to the other hand, A Memorable Fancy, where coda is punctuation, wherein our integers have been resolved into a she and he, our very own Didi and Gogo in thigh boots. She’s full of questions about how to get out, how to escape this constituency of self (while stepping over empty things that multiply underfoot), and he speaks, with an elephant’s unfortunately unforgetful mouth (Time is not as tame as you believe…). She presses the point, asking explicitly for guidance, a way to move on, and there’s a voice from a bigger and broken font that tells her she’s got all tools of the trade for finding one’s way, that is to say, meaning, and it’s menial, really, back-breaking stuff, digging, or hijacking, either which will work, or wont’, for there’s every chance of coming up empty. Flipping us up to Sisyphus, patron saint of poets and those who gather in groups:
It’s been done before? / Yes, but not necessarily by better.
True and true enough.