The poem follows the arc of a narrator, a four-year-old girl, being undone, either by the act of letting go of her name, or due to the simple action of “calling”, who then, by the end of the poem, is reassembled, and in the process, changed.
In the first stanza, the releasing of name and the subsequent action of calling out has caused the narrator to lose her “container”, that which kept her tied up into a unity, and now she has spilled “Ghosts of her” into the grass.
The action in subsequent stanzas is Miltonian, biblical, alchemical—a look into the actual process of transmutation, perhaps. The narrator has slipped from her second skin, much as a snake sheds the outer layer or itself, and there follows a swirl of imagery: monsters, Paradise, (or is it Hell?), pandemonium, a free ranging confusion and lack of definition, until
“…The substance of words, fruit of shaped
sound, like the skin around names returned
then to hold me, cauled and christened…”
So then, at the beginning of the poem, the narrator is destroyed, or unloosened, by leaving her name in the grass and/or the action of calling. By the end of the poem, having existed in a state of multiplicity, confusion and profusion, the narrator is reassembled, resurrected, or born again, by, not words, but the substance of words. And, amazingly, the substance of words isn’t what’s in the inside of a skin of name, but is rather the skin for name. The narrator is now trafficking, not with the real, but with the ideal, the super-real. That which would normally be privileged as being inside, and therefore more important, is the inside-made-outside, the Platonic form, taken from “inside” and made visible, but only metaphorically. The narrator herself has undergone this same action. She has transmogrified, having been fragmented and destroyed—safely, as the narrator claims,
“…undone at the center of truth, that great hinged
Venn, where collusion, compromise, chords
whet their tongues, whisper our names: deliriums
exhumed, extracted from the hum, but soon
yoked with music, the stuff of our trade:
zephyrs, cadences, our breath through the blades.”
That the narrator feels safety in having been undone further credentials her as a Gnostic, one willing and eager for the process of change, Ovidian, the ultimate risk-taker, willing to molt her being, her identity, by leaping into multiplicity with no assurance that she would be able to leap back out again.
Beyond the admiration I have for a narrator as fearless as the one here, there is much else in the poem to admire. The beauty of the rhythms, the musicality of the language, how the lines dance around the pentameter without ever settling on it, how the poet establishes multiple cadences that feel blended as opposed to cacophonous. All the sonics and phonics of the poem build momentum towards the poem’s conclusion, if not ultimate completion, as the process delineated in the poem seems to not want to speak of anything so ironclad.
The four-year-old at the beginning of the poem speaks as if she has taken some kind of pill, some drug, that has destabilized her, caused her to loose her name into the grass, to call out, and to disintegrate. The poem recreates, in the reader, the same sort of reaction—poem as homeopathic offering, as alchemical accelerant.
The form chosen, the acrostic—which is also abecedarian, pointing, perhaps, towards the fact that letters themselves carry meaning, as opposed to existing as mere building blocks—further points toward the action of the alchemical. To possess the knowledge of letters themselves, and therefore to possess the ability to build words and names, is to possess a great power. But the poet, by choosing an abecedarian form, fetishizes, not the end product, the name the letters create, but rather that which makes up the name, showing an awareness that Hegel would have admired, reaching back before the “givens”, the “names”, and into the mystery of their creation.
The poet has created her own small mystery, here, her own engine of transformation. She has unloosed her ghosts into the grass, and invited us to go along. An invitation I was happy to accept.