A longer stay
A review of Stacy Doris's 'Fledge: A Phenomenology of Spirit'
Media vita in Morta Sumus (In the midst of life we are in death). — Bobulus Noctar, 10th century
As with all last words or nearly last words, we are left wanting more. For, if we have known the writer and her work, we want to hear the words spoken in her own voice. We want more words, more books, a longer stay. We are left with Fledge: A Phenomenology of Spirit, the book Stacy Doris finished shortly before her death in January 2012 at the age of forty-nine. The project as any — but with the additional urgency of it being her last — asks the reader the fundamental questions — what state of being/mind preoccupied Stacy Doris composing this last book? Why these pressures enacted on the page to “braid us,” writer and reader, into the “rope of me by me” that is Stacy’s Fledge? As any mourner, I am left holding an object, an affront to my deeper desire for “more light” from this poet’s brilliant mind to range over decades more. I am left with previous and singularly inventive poetry projects, prose, translations, and pieces for sound and performance and her ultimate book, no means a summary of what preceded but as usual with Doris, playful and audacious, a private journey shared. Doris’s preface — her “take” on the project that has survived her, is her statement introducing Fledge. “This book,” she says, “stands for”:
a) “a close translation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit,” which one writer has called “a bildungsroman that follows the protagonist Spirit through a history of consciousness,” phenomenology derived from the Greek “to appear.” Doris’s gaze is fluid and rapidly fluent, as if her spirit needs to locate a harbor on restless water: “So we bring them to cage / honeysuckle let slide / know itself more than we / know so we pulse at once / in and out while the dips / coax your mouth sealed and mine / chimes / prehensile, whole / curlicue-paved, sails on.” Fledge is a narrative of flux and change, action and reaction, a story of connection and love, and the body’s miraculous and sometimes terrible transfigurations in the transfiguring power of Doris’s mind/spirit. It is a human abstract with many possible points of attention, none of which comprise a single narrative but all that compose a story of presence fleeing from absence by small interventions and a large hope. The pursuit of stasis or change is as elusive as the story itself: what does one do as one lets go of life? In nearly every poem, one feels a grappling to impose language on inexplicable complexities of feeling, to address and implore others, to speak of the body and let it respond, a process filled with love, collusion, anger, silencing, befuddlement, wisdom and endless transformations of mind as Doris moves through the shadowy and sometimes dark regions of being toward non-being. Objects get taken up and discarded, transmigrated, identities changed. Movement and cessation of movement and blunt gestures append scattered parts and render them “prehensile,” “whole.” Rhythms truncate smooth progress leading to abrupt stops. Hinges are missing. Clarity is replaced by ambiguous gesture. Meaning scatters. A history of consciousness overflows as consciousness itself: cues and miscues, movement and delay, intervention and cessation: “What I hold in my hand / which is just now flies more / glad and yours veined to sky / call so when you leave / I miss but patch and bolt.” The rhythm of the book, its gorgeous play with the momentousness of small and obscure actions, is the form of “pure looking into” that defines phenomenology. It is at once the most natural and unnatural of acts to compose a text to bridge the rift between life and death. One thinks of the form of Fledge: its half-Alexandrine line without caesura since nothing can hold the tension of the project Doris attempts in one-syllable words that create sonic presence and a demand for strict attention.
b) “a mainly at arm’s length appropriation of some poems by Paul Celan.” Uncertainties are entertained and enjoined to appear in her songs and spells and conjurer’s art: “The mouse rag as much in / immediacy as / immediacy shreds / to mouse-rags …” Fledge is an homage to Celan’s own brave venture in language renewal.
c) “a log of disasters,” her personal journal of the plague year. As with all of Doris’s writing, even her disasters are infused with mirth and antic joy: “With my rag I play mouse / is stuck the mouse is stuck/down behind the armoire / I can’t get her mouse mouse / mouse ut-oh slid part through” … to the end of the poem, an invocation of love: “all must be hugged hard once / each rag particular / more than we undertow.” Disasters redeemed by Doris’s sense of play, her embracing, even as she is letting go, of all the rags of existence. Six syllables to a line measure loss and leave much untold, hesitancy in telling, lines enjambed often nearly unbalance the reader with so much movement and activity, so much letting go and holding and piecing together involved in both parts of the process: “… I try / to swing out through rock’s webs / and am caught, twist in there / now the fact of blue can’t / tow me, want, want a way.”
d) “A register of miracle”: the miracle of attentiveness is the book’s entire project, its way of exploring error and purpose: “Let’s get out of this skunk’s / house, out of this old noise” restored by such lines: “Since we break things to shreds / since we clip them and spit them / we tarnish awareness. / But since acts are all love / nothing stops our fingers.” The negotiation is in a currency foreign to us all, the poet most importantly, perplexed and inventive (“we paid it in grape coins”) — endlessly poised between breaking and repair as usual devices are discarded (“toss the blue fast up there”) and retrieved (“I undo the bloom / so you can change the nectar”). An economy of spirit animates the gestures and the many turns toward action. But what action can heal or instruct in such a register of miracle (“Our faces swell of love”) and disaster (“the rest’s a raft of noise”)? What is needed for this journey? It is as if we are reading a things-to-do list never adequate to the task of impossible transition or the metamorphoses of being, from self to other, from rag to mouse to horse to rag. Perhaps the conjurer’s art can delay or circumvent death, perhaps enough commands can be issued to stay in the game longer or dare not to: “I’ll walk off this huge plack / of lawn, why not? / Why if it’s to reach that why since / our braid roots obscenely, floods down the wonderment.”
e) “also this is a bunch of love poems of undying love”: as such, it is an instruction manual for those she loves to survive the leaving that her words cannot delay: “Lengthening / you grab all my colors / lengthening I let you,” “blueberry don’t you cry,” “Is to tell each / my way to hold me an- / other, if another”; and it is a book of gratitude, pain, and grace for those whom she held and have held her: “Hold my hand or / else I can’t walk,” “Without your hands I can’t / walk, so flung drops in drops / slow from wet wove kiss … / to laugh / face to face puzzling / solidity I bang / your head as merriment” “all must be hugged hard once / each rag particular / more than we undertow.” It is also a love letter to her young children, begun when they were learning to speak in the small words and playful and strange songs that provide Fledge its characteristic lexicon.
If a can rolls in wind
We go songless or dull.
We lose the can or rag
To watch it roll in wind
left repeating turned out
so that we know what
separates and may build
the afternoon in sips
The penultimate poem in Fledge is a stratagem for lingering by measuring in small doses, time lengthened by attention, each moment built upon its predecessor through nurturing social conventions that hold us in time, so that nothing gets lost. The loss described in the opening stanzas is one in which natural forces take hold of an object that a viewer observes without intervention. Lack of intervention is the cradle of loss and songlessness.
In the last poem the penultimate line invokes “this panoply of door.” The meanings of panoply include an impressive array or display, a protective covering or armor, something that covers and protects: the door to perception, the door to words used in the manner of all living to venture and dare and tear and break and recover is the panoply of techniques in Fledge. The door that protects is also the exit, and the marvel of the book is how Stacy Doris leads us through that door as well, we, her fledglings, ready for flight, but reluctant, as she, to take our leave.