inside july, Gabrielle Peterson

IMG_2387Untitled, London Bellman


inside july

we bought antique lawn chairs,
sat on them,
perished in the backseat.
five years from now, neighbors will find our
pale white bones in glove compartments
and garage sale clothing bins,
try them on for size.
our skeletons
are unsacred;
see how they vanish.
i am happy for deep rocks
and abandoned rowboats. parasols
floating on a water. before
breakfast, before waking. and no,

our bodies have never felt so heavy
save for the day we ate sedona in the morning;
our stomachs filled with red rock,
with porcelain desert.
touch my spine
to yours,
slow strands of mingling pearls, and know
you need not ever untangle. know
which warm days come
from which volcanoes. know
the basis for your slow-sinking cheekbones,
thirsty ships in flooded streets.
on the next day our threads intersect,
let’s be paper cranes.
origami animals.
let the reason for our living be
to fold
and unfold.

Gabrielle Peterson


Review by John Johnson

One striking feature of this poem is its synesthesia, “that blending of sensations, …of describing one sense in terms of another,” (Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary). The speaker here, and the one she is addressing, once “ate sedona,” their “stomachs filled with red rock, with porcelain desert.” The rocks and desert (one letter away from dessert) that would normally be taken in through the eyes, are taken in instead through the mouth. They pass not to the brain but to the stomach, not as mere images but as substances, tangible, taste-able. As nourishment. In synesthesia, the senses entangle, like the two spines here, likened to “strands of mingling pearls” that “need not ever untangle.” And so the speaker associates the synesthetic experience with the touching of spines, suggesting that physical intimacy, too, is a kind of synesthesia, a blending of bodies. The title, “inside july,” as well, suggests synesthesia. The month takes us in, as if it were a being, as if we could enter into a month, experience a measure of time from inside it.
In his description of synesthesia, Edward Hirsch says “the device may be as old as literature itself.” We can find examples of it in the Odyssey and the Bible. But it was Baudelaire and Rimbaud who popularized the use of synesthesia in poetry. Gabrielle M. Peterson is in good company.


Review by Carl Boon

I like the premise of the poem, the opposition it explores between the heavy, the earthy, and the natural versus the junk we buy to satisfy ourselves, junk that doesn’t last. “[A]ntique lawn chairs” and “garage sale clothing bins”—after decades—do nothing but pollute and corrupt the truly ancient and antique, which here are represented by the “red rock” of Sedona and the “porcelain desert,” among other images. (As a side-note, are there “antique lawn chairs”?) But aside from that solid and interesting opposition, the narrative aspects of the poem simply confuse me. They’re zany and wacky, but not in the good way. When Peterson tries to insert a human narrative into the poem—which seems to be something like a fleeting relationship—the poem slides into an abstraction that makes both the hard beauty of Sedona and the camp of lawn chairs merely decorative. Consider the last six lines of the poem.

on the next day our thread intersect,
let’s be paper cranes.
origami animals.
let the reason for our living be
to fold and unfold.

What could that even mean? There’s a fine, hard kernel at the center of this poem that has to do with questions of environmental degradation and the satisfaction we take from consuming, but I think too much of the poem needlessly distracts from those interesting questions, and for what? What, after all, is gained (for the poem itself or trying to understand ourselves outside the poem) if “the reason for our living be / to fold / and unfold”? It sounds pretty, but it carries no weight, no real sense of understanding.

Finally, the title of the poem seems totally disconnected from anything that happens inside the poem. Why July? What does it mean to be “Inside july”? And why is “july” not capitalized?


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