Desire as Desire: Meet Me Here at Dawn by Sophie Klahr
Desire and longing are the undercurrents of nearly all great literature, and yet rarely are these emotions given flesh as sinuous and muscular as in Sophie Klahr’s Meet Me Here at Dawn. “Imagine an orange, cut into slices, on a plate on a bed / on a night in April, under the slow clicking fan,” the reader is compelled to imagine this Magritte-like image, where the body is the orange, sliced into the pieces by the observer, and served up by the observed. The repetition of "on" itself is sexual; there is hunger, and yet oranges are consumed more for pleasure than for hunger. We are left to wonder what is left after the consumption, after sex—two intertwined rinds perhaps beneath that rather ominous “slow clicking fan.” The fan not only marks time, it also repeats its motion again and again like the lovers, and like the thoughts of the speaker which churn and churn over the scene. Throughout Meet Me Here at Dawn, even when Klahr’s lines are more spare then this, they still contain multitudes.
Desire can be an opening or a wall, it can lead to fullest of pleasures or to considerable torture, it is a life-making force as well as a destructive one, and Klahr’s poetry energetically explores all these manifestations and boundaries of desire. A desire that begs not only for the lover’s body, but for more, to be the only love, the only body the lover touches, a desire that is appeased at times but never fulfilled. In several poems the obstacle to fulfillment, the lover’s wedding ring, haunts the speaker, “Your wedding ring hums / from the kitchen table like static,” the situation remains too long in stasis for the speaker, “You always say, // you’re going home,” and so the speaker is left adrift like an untethered boat in the “long hours I am without you.” Not since Anne Sexton’s Love Poems have I read a book that so unflinchingly captures both the intense passion and the loneliness of an affair.
At the center of this affair is the body. What is it that the body knows? What intimacies and intricate registers of longing exist in the depths of muscles and across the landscapes of skin? What betrayals lodge there as well? Klahr’s poems work to show us the way the body dreams, the way the body stores its longing and often works against our will.
“Here, (turn the body)
the spinal column, then buried:
galloping from palm to cunt to sole, this picture
where the bed is a feeling you can’t shake, a migraine, a cage
containing sea stones,
a script, a string of red lights—
It’s a dream:
there is a girl, a bed, a gun, a fire”
Throughout this poem, “Opening Night,” the speaker creates layers of distance from her own body, she considers it in pieces as in close-up photographs, she considers herself as if in a movie she doesn’t belong in, her body having involved her in a story that is working to dismantle her. The image of the cage is spotlighted by its placement on the page, the only other words in the poem that extend that far towards the right margin are “you can disappear,” desire has put the body in peril, the bed has become a cage, signifying both the animal essence and the feeling of being trapped within a situation, a dangerous situation within which the self is disappearing. The poem opens with the words “Dear Dog,” the image of the dog is repeated throughout Meet Me Here At Dawn, the dog representing basic sexual desire, at times also the lover, but at other times the speaker worries she too has become more like the dog than herself. Here, as in other poems rife with uncertainty and regret like “50 Ways,” Klahr sheds light on powerlessness, on an often epic struggle against desire, one that—even with its suggestions of animalism—is supremely human.
The lines in Meet Me Here At Dawn are often broken across the page, their movement dictated by the energy of the line, there is precious little symmetry, instead the lines cut short, run long, drift, cut off, punctuation is used, then discarded, the resulting effect is entirely natural. The poems do not refuse structure, instead an organic structure has arisen: breath runs between words, pauses are felt, and a pushing and a pulling supports a tone of internal conflict and reflects alterations in mood and emotion. In the prose poem “The Book of Paid Rooms, Volume I” Klahr writes, “but no one can really have two lives. Instead, one learns to move differently, to make air thread between each piece that is torn— how, if you break a bone, you can stave off the pain by breathing into it,” here breath works, not necessarily to heal, but to ameliorate the pain that blossoms alongside desire.
With seductive syntax Klahr’s fragmented poems courageously reveal the complexities of sexual intimacy; these are deeply physical poems that cast shadows on the body long after you’ve read them. In the closing poem, “Kairos” Klahr wonders, “Why are we said to fall in love, and not to be cast?” she goes on to list the many definitions of cast, all of which relate back to the speaker’s struggle with this love affair she is attempting to bring to a close, “to remove or banish something from your mind decisively” and later, “to shed or to leave something, for example, a skin,” the metaphor for entering and exiting a relationship as an unhusking is particularly apt. In a space where perhaps there are no right words, Sophie Klahr has found them, they glitter on the page like a lover’s eye, like the needle of a “moral compass,” like the key to a house that is not yours, like “a right-warm blinding,” and we too are blinded.
Yes Yes Books
Brunch: Today’s brunch is both simple and decadent, chocolate covered strawberries of three varieties: dark with chocolate chips, white chocolate, and chocolate-peanut. These strawberries are from Shari’s Berries, and can be purchased online and sent as a Valentine’s Day present or anniversary present, or simply just to show affection.