When you were a child did you ever think about your breathing patterns as you tried to go to sleep? And then the act of breathing, instead of feeling automatic, transforms into something labored/conscious, an action you must focus on for it to continue? And you wonder how you’ll ever fall asleep again because you can’t stop concentrating on your lungs filling & deflating? Then suddenly it’s 8am & time to go to school once more. Sarah Veglahn’s Some Random Heart somehow splices together the moment of peril, when you actually believe you’ll need to unceasingly think through each breath for the next to follow, with the lurch into a new morning that invalidates last night’s concern & thrusts a toothbrush into your hand. In this chapbook of prose poems, Veglahn guides you to a union of precise observation & startling actions (thus a surreal yet tangible microcosm). And she does so with confident insistence.
These are some lines that I particularly like & why:
“In this scene, listen to insects (p1).”
The demand of this command pulling at the hard e in “scene,” and then the wing-flutters surrounding it with the soft i’s of “in” “this” “listen” and “insects.” The play on the preposition “in” with the later “en” of “listen” and “in” of “insects.”
“Things are left behind, thrown out with the bathwater—a clear movement in step with crystal flames can’t be cause for much concern. Not like a raw expression, a meeting of eyes (p 2).”
The “things” which are discarded become deliberately, almost violently excluded when also described as “thrown out with the bathwater.” Terror blooms when one is told that some things are expendable while withholding the names of the specific objects. And is it safe to assume that they are important items, since they are, by default, not the bathwater? Yet, we’re then told that we shouldn’t be too concerned by such a “clear movement,” this shrugging off of unspecified possessions, since the action is transparent & easily tracked. The real concern lies within a “raw expressions, a meeting of eyes.” While this meeting is unadulterated & direct, the meaning behind the expression remains elusive. So that’s where the unease rests: to receive a glance isolated from its translation. To observe & be a party to the impenetrable.
What follows, then, is the tension that emerges when the narrator pursues the secrets of the opaque. This collection demonstrates a tenuous balance between a) the perpetual hunger to seek out this meaning behind the meeting & b) knowing that the consequence could be a “mangled corpse of a heart.” The narrator is willing to have gone “walking beyond the fire-line,” out into the darker landscape. And walking towards the otherly unseen- these inquisitive steps- generates it’s own warm. Although some might see this as a positive & bold move, such action can have a toppling affect, & so “the heat, the weight of it, makes breathing underwater preferable (p9).”
“It’s 18 minutes passed the hour. It’s practically locked in place. It’s big motion sound, evaporating downward (3).”
The longer second hand of the clock, frozen, without knowing which hour it denotes. The larger than life sound emanating from the 18, “evaporating” in an unnatural direction. Can time be locked around a sound? An event signified by its very sound?
“A whole new way to move: sharp flash, back-step, forward breath, landslide, avalanche (5).”
Please, this is so good. The burst, the body moving back while the breath pushes forward, the sliding & force, the devouring & friction of landslides, avalanches. Let a person think this can be done. Let a person learn how to careen: gathering & splintering what she passes with this momentum.
Throughout the chapbook, many instances of searching, being on the lookout:
“I’m looking for angles in the waves, dragging the lake (p6).”
“You’ve got different methods for searching (p8).”
“…a watching beyond genes or wings papery and hidden behind the door (p10).
What body are we searching for? What’s being reconstructed in the search-effort? What loss is weighted down by stones in the river or suctioned to its muddy skin? Have we failed or are we just not there yet? Can we be recovered? Are we working with the bees & wasps to silence the taunting machine? Genes, chemical elements, atomic numbers, hard angles, & hives swim through the chapbook in an eclectic school until the narrator finally states, “I’ve formed the other stable compound so as to be no longer available to reaction (p19)” Is this safety inclusionary or exclusionary? Is this surfacing or diving down? Although breathing underwater may be “preferable,” and although solitude may be more “stable,” ultimately, the narrator seems to decide that the volatile has potential. It beckons. And in the last poem, from the slightly ambiguous position situated above the water but “beneath the platform,” the narrator beckons to us, “Come with me and watch the fog blinding the lake (p25).”
Whenever I read Veglahn’s Some Random Heart, variations of the same questions always project themselves onto the wallpaper in front of me. I wonder what film reel I’m sliding in & out of. I wonder if it wriggles on the cutting room floor like an eel or if it’s spliced in with everyone’s shuddering, heaving movie. These poems elicit an eerie sensation, like watching someone else’s slide show of a trip they’ve taken & then noticing yourself, offering a wave-like gesture, in all of the images that flash by.
Anyways, I may be way off base, but I'd suggest you buy a copy & read it for yourself:
Letter Machine Editions
The 4th and newest issue of Sink Review (sinkreview.org) is out. An awesome lineup of poets including: Jon Woodward, Juliet Paterson, Rauan Klassnik, Paige Taggart, Amy Lawless, Keith Newton, Emily Kendal Frey, Justin Marks, Steve Roberts, Sampson Starkweather
and reviews of:
Matthew Rohrer/They All Seemed Asleep
Tao Lin/Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Mary Ruefle/The Most of It
Frank Bidart/Watching the Spring Festival
Kate Greenstreet/This is Why I Hurt You