March 23, 2009

At the A & P Meridiem by Jessie Carty

The poems in “At the A & P Meridiem,” Jessie Carty’s first chapbook, concern the nature of time: the past, the present, and the future, a coalescing of memory and hope.

Each poem in the chapbook is named for an hour, from the “7pm” of one day to the “6pm” of the next. But this arrangement is less straightforward than it may seem. Reading around in the chapbook, you’ll see that the poems/hours do not necessarily flow directly from one to another. “6pm” may take place in the present day, while “11pm” takes place years earlier; other poems take place at other times. The chapbook’s disjointedness is, in the end, immensely satisfying: it’s an expression of the simultaneous eternity and singularity of each hour.

In “10pm,” this eternity of the singular is unfortunate: the speaker asks “How many times have we had this conversation?” and the reader gets a sense of her despair. But in other poems, the sensation of forever-fleeting time is tender and lovely. “5am,” for example, contains this memory:

Last winter we had rolled papers,
together, for the evening delivery. That was
before she also took on a morning shift, before
we measured the cold by the number of socks
layered on each foot.

References to popular culture abound, including a sly Dr. Seuss allusion; you may never think of two lines from Fox in Sox the same way after reading the prose poem “2am”:

we wait for late night HBO – Real Sex IX – I giggle as you look, once in a while, over the top of your copy of Space. You’re reading the ending, again. […] I try to stay quiet, but the particular position they are practicing on the screen makes me call out, “I would not, could not with a fox!”

“4am” takes place at Denny’s and contains the lines

we wait
over waterlogged sweet-tea
for the moment when we’ll
tire of getting to know one another.

The growing confusion of past, present, and future culminates (for me) in “3pm” in which time is simultaneously compressed and expanded:

While I was eating cold
pizza and watching reruns
of “Life Goes On,” my car
was evaporating and I
will be breaking down tonight
on a dark semi-suburban road
near the airport.

One is reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s idea of a “timequake,” a sudden jump in time similar to the physical upset of an earthquake.

The book ends with a moment involving (fittingly for this collection) both language and time:

I set a timer for 45 minutes.
As I wipe down the counter
and scrub the sink, I stop
once in a while to flick
the light inside the stove,

With that drawn-out charm word, Carty calls attention to the power of language, and once again time is deliberately mixed up: the word comes after the magical moment, so that it expresses magic rather than causing it. This is the “spell of domesticity” Carty refers to in the third line of the poem, the everyday magical moment, the potential for poetry and art inside each hour.

Jessie Carty runs Folded Word Press, with projects including Shape of a Box, a YouTube-based literary magazine.

At the A & P Meridiem by Jessie Carty was published by Pudding House Publications and can be purchased from their website. Review written by Jessy Randall.

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