Review of Gathered Bones are Known to Wander by Amy Strauss Friedman
Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016. 40 pages. $12.00
In "Death by Google Translate," Amy Strauss Friedman writes:
Bone fragments ascend in the choir through pipes, our cobalt wedding dishes in the sink forget-me-nots amid the deep bloom of dissolution. I implore you to tell me who died, whose skeletal bits float like oyster crackers around my feet in theshower. "Uns," you reply.
Strauss Friedman conjures a chimerical world, intertwining modern technology and everyday items, God and death. The nineteen prose poems in her chapbook Gathered Bones are Known to Wander lead the reader into a seemingly familiar territory—train stations, breakfast tables, grocery stores, even heart ache—only to startle us at the end of each multi-faceted vignette, when we see we've been traveling with that mysterious other: the ghost, God, or ourselves.
Calling these poems "prose poems" belies the gorgeous use of lyrical language and imagery weaving its way through the collection. For example, in the poem "Inside the Frame," S-F employs both syntactical rhythm as well as alliteration to convey warring emotions at the end of a relationship: "Sand-swept skies hang eyebrow level over the unnamed desert town in which we find ourselves lost, surrounded by sheep and a sense of profound responsibility." She is also able to elevate the human to a divine level by the repetition of shapes—arcs, moons—and again, the poetic repetition of sounds. A woman who had a botched face-lift invokes the image of a moon goddess, "Lucy stood at the end of her cul-de-sac, fingering the crescent moon bulge of gauze affixed atop her forehead. . . ." So, while the structure of the poems appears grounded by prose, the language and imagery within the boundaries of the sentences, transforms.
The technology we use daily is means of transformation and transcendence too. The spiritual contacts the profane through email and voicemail: "Each evening God emails me my next-day's agenda," and "God's secretary left me a message. . . .last week He was dispirited by what He'd witnessed." The fusion of these worlds illustrates the distance between the spirit, the self, and the other. In "Your Denial Over the Crash," the speaker notes, "Grass grows around the victims, their outlines visible only on Google Earth." A telemarketer calls for a mysterious "Terry," whom everybody else, even the person the speaker lives with, seems to know.
As the distance grows, the "you" becomes slippery, harder to define. The speaker has photographs that become memorials in a domestic crematorium, "After you'd run over my heart, I swept up the ashes and put them inside a golden urn that now sits on the mantel next to a photo of us at the Grand Canyon." In a train station, "The picture of you on the billboard...is vandalized daily...I pulled out a Sharpie and scrawled our address along the stone entrance, hoping you'll find your way back." But is "the you" someone else, "the other," or part of the speaker's own personae, the psyche "laid out. . .on the coffee table"? Is this "other" within us all, searching for integration? In "Mirror," the speaker notices "that one of your teeth has become loose. It wiggles as you brush, blood seeping from the root. When I mention it, you recommend I get it fixed." These bones that "are known to wander" do not stay still; even in death "her search for herself continues."
Colored geometric shapes adorn the back and front covers of Amy Strauss Friedman's magical and heartbreaking chapbook. The shapes are reminiscent of the "stained glass scene" which traps the speaker and "the you" in the poem "Inside the Frame." The shapes are cracked jewel-colors interspersed with white shapes, like bones that tell a story when they're tossed. In Gathered Bones are Known to Wander, Amy Strauss Friedman collects all that we see in a day and just as an oracle would do, seeks the illusive "other," the spiritual, and the self.
You can purchase Gathered Bones are Known to Wander here.
Jennifer Martelli is the author of The Uncanny Valley and Apostrophe, both from Big Table Publishing. Her poetry has appeared in Up the Staircase Quarterly, Hermeneutic Chaos, Red Paint Hill Journal, and Vector Press. Her reviews and essays have appeared in Green Mountains Review, Drunken Boat, and Gravel. She is a recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. Martelli is an associate editor for The Compassion Project.