Dummy Fire by Sarah Vap
(Saturnalia Books, 2007)
“Everything Offered Happens,” the first poem in Sarah Vap’s Dummy Fire, winner of the 2006 Saturnalia Book Prize, contains an admission: “This is as close as I can get: // everything must be loved—omens wait / in the deep-freeze, rocking at night.” Over the course of the book, Vap moves from such acknowledgments of language’s inadequacies, its reductive tendencies, to spots that get us close, even too close. She cringes in “more you never get to know,”
the most interior:
another person’s hand,
but elsewhere leans so far in that we learn “the horses will eat grain until their stomachs explode: guts on fetlocks and hocks” (“Snippets, overheard at his wedding”) and we see “The boy hunting bobcats from a Plymouth; the lockjaw in the front row; seahorse-shaped babies pinching off,” “Snow-blue lips; the spill of a mouthful of veins; a sloop in the bubble of uterine fervor,” and “The blemish of gooseflesh on her cognac-pink sex” (“Patients in your letter”). Oddly, these eidetic renderings, which risk repelling, are the moments where I feel most connected to Dummy Fire, where I recognize one of Vap’s projects, a revelation of bodies “opening and closing” (“Snippets, overheard at his wedding”), of “mornings when I am most full of you, / most foreign to myself” (“What the greedy sun will do next”).
Because Dummy Fire contains more swerves than approaches, I find myself greedy for ways in. The breath-stuck clarity and slow unfolding of the opening lines of “Land of Blue Snow: A Christmas Poem” provide one:
of the lake like a thread
By poem’s end generous injunction replaces withholding: “Search, smell—this giant of ice / that makes winter sexual.” Ice, like sun, like gowns and girls, like horses and houses, makes many appearances throughout Dummy Fire. Recurring images, then, offer another path, though this path has been worn away, Hansel (who might ask, “What the fuck is the gadfly?”) and Gretel (“Tart. Flippant. Cowgirl-magnificat / in the vulnerable dress.”) have disappeared too (“Eventide”), and what is left are their breadcrumbs, transformed magically to “Loaves, / like little songs // of daughters in the wading pool. Like throwing fingers. / Like throwing tigers / The paid-for tigers” (“Fisherman’s Christmas”).
Jessica Bozek looks for signs of spring daily. Her first full-length collection of poems, The Bodyfeel Lexicon, will be published by Switchback Books in 2009. cor•re•spond•ence, a text/typography collaboration with Eli Queen, is available at dusie.org.