In her remarkable Black Series, Laurie Sheck turns the ordinary world inside out and shows us its glittering seams. Her long, elegantly quizzical lines convey a haunted vision of human striving which is in part an elaboration on our daily reality, and in part a fantastic departure from it. "I can almost taste the glassy air," she writes. "Where are the birds in it, / wings lifting as currents buffet them like echoes, bright / chaos of atomized instances . . . ?" Roaming freely in the shifting landscape of the imagination, Sheck delivers an inner life that is just as vivid as what we see around us; at the same time, she shows us what we see in a new light, bringing illumination even to darkness:
It's the black night that wakes in me,
so dominant, so focused.
And then a car goes by and I think,
"I'm in the world,"
tires kicking up gravel from the dust.
What does the orange hawkweed do
inside this dark-its radiance
secretive but not extinguished?
To read this collection is to discover at every turn that secretive but undeniable radiance, and a language that is both riveting and distinctive.
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March 04, 2003
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Excerpt from Black Series by Laurie Sheck
"The Subway Platform"
And then the gray concrete of the subway platform, that shore
stripped of all premise of softness
or repose. I stood there, beneath the city's sequential grids
and frameworks, its wrappings and unwrappings
like a robe sewn with birds that flew into seasons of light,
a robe of gold
and then a robe of ash.
All around me were briefcases, cell phones, baseball caps,
folded umbrellas forlorn and still glistening
with rain. Who owned them? Each face possessed a hiddenness.
DO NOT STEP ACROSS THE YELLOW LINE; the Transit Authority
had painted this onto the platform's edge
beyond which the rails
gleamed, treacherous, almost maniacal,
yet somehow full of promise. Glittery, icy, undead.
Sharp as acid eating through a mask. I counted forward
in my mind to the third rail, bristling with current,
hissing inside it like a promise or a wish; and the word
"forward" as if inside it also,
as if there were always a forward, always somewhere else
to go: station stops, exits, stairways opening out into the dusty
light; turnstiles and signs indicating this street
or that. Appointments. Addresses. Numbers and letters
of apartments, and their floors. Where was it, that thing I'd felt
inside me, tensed for flight
or capture, streaked with the notion of distance and desire?
And the people all around me, how many hadn't
at some time or another curled up in their beds with the shades drawn,
not knowing how to feel the forwardness, or any trace
of joy? Wing of sorrow, wing of grief,
I could feel it brushing my cheek, gray bird
I lived with, always it was so quiet on its tether.
Then the train was finally coming, its earthquaky
rumblings building through the tunnel, its focused light
like a small fury. Soon we would get on, would step into
that body whose headlights obliterate the tunnel's dark
like chalk scrawling words onto a blackboard.
I looked down at the hems of the many dresses all around me,
they were so bright! Why hadn't I noticed them before? Reds
and oranges and blues, geometrical and floral patterns
swirling beneath the browns and grays of raincoats,
so numerous, so soft: "threshold," I thought, and "lullaby," disclosure,"
the train growing louder, the feet moving toward the yellow
line, the hems billowing as the train pulled up,
how they swayed and furrowed and leapt
as if a seamstress had loosed them like laughter from her hands-
Again the dark begins to meddle with the buildings,
first softening then releasing them
that they might fold themselves back into concealment,
while the silences wander, inexhaustible, diverse,
hovering like shame and not like shame,
dispersing over neon-shattered streets.
But the programmed air is purposeful and sure; it doesn't wander.
It carries a deliberateness inside it,
a brittleness like wooden boxes.
In my neighbor's room, electronic voices soothe him,
and bodies made of an uncertain light
that pass back and forth through brief episodic disclosures.
No microbes live in them, or stenches--only a blue glow.
Each night they become their own erasures.
The circuits that guide me are smaller than I know.
What gaunt liberty this is, this waiting for headlines,
the flesh drenched in hearsay,
or the distant, lovely algebra of stars,
the offer that is good for one week only.
Outside, the raw data of the faces pass.
Someone is tearing a photograph in thirds. Someone
is laughing. Someone is stockpiling rage,
sharp words about to burst into the throat.
Where is the soundtrack? Where the poison dress to sting me clean?
How quiet chaos is. How tracelessly it enters.