Rising, Falling, Hovering
Readers of C. D. Wright’s poetry have called the last decade a period of great growth in her work. Beginning with Just Whistle: A Valentine (1993), the work that marked the start of her collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster, and followed by Deepstep Come Shining (1998), a book-length poem that grew from a road trip she and Luster made through the Deep South, Wright began to move to longer lines in less narrative poems. Wright moved on to work with Luster again in One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (2003), an extended poem (or perhaps a number of long and intricately interrelated poems) and photographs of men and women incarcerated in Louisiana prisons. This poetic growth reduced narration in Wright’s poems and showed her increased interest in extended poems which, although they may still use fragmented narrative, rely heavily on image, language, and repetition. Rising, Falling, Hovering is the next flowering of this growth.
The volume’s long title poem is in two parts. Three poems introduce the volume, followed by the first thirty-three pages of “Rising, Falling, Hovering.” Two poems then form a bridge to the last twenty pages of the title poem. The volume concludes with an additional nine poems, some of which are completions, or perhaps alternate versions, of earlier poems. The titles of the shorter poems are almost all introduced with the word “like,” suggesting that they offer metaphors (simile is too limiting a term for these suggestive works) for the long work they encapsulate.
Scholars have called Wright’s early poetry narrative and have suggested that her interest in language reduced the narrative element in her work. However, the framework of “Rising, Falling, Hovering” describes a trip to Mexico, a friend’s health crisis, and the speaker’s son’s visit to Mexico, and all of this is infused with the speaker’s anger about America’s invasion of Iraq, much of which she observes on Mexican television. In addition, the Mexican setting brings to light her painful awareness of the relationship between the inhabitants of a wealthy United States and the Mexicans who attempt to immigrate to al otro lado, the other side of the border. (Appropriately, the poem is threaded with Spanish words and phrases.) Wright suggests that the U.S. presence in Iraq, like its presence in Mexico, is based on the power of American economic interests.
Wright’s narrative, however, is never focused on anecdote or elements of plot. Instead, fragments of events appear and disappear, elusive as memory. Events that one might expect to be explained or amplified instead remain half-limned, to draw their power from their evocative incompleteness. It is this technique that allows Wright to merge images from disparate settings. Some of the early parts of the poem, for example, suggest Wright’s intense early relationship with poet Frank Stanford:
He would appear central in her book then go offon his own meanwhile no one but themselvesin the kitchen’s recessed lighting in their underpantsDrinking warm beer not taking calls
Wright’s affair with Stanford and its tragic ending with his suicide have often appeared in her work. In this poem, the presence of that lover seems to morph into the figure of the partner who accompanies the speaker to Mexico. On the flight, perhaps, the speaker sees the newspaper report that warns her “the number of their dead to remain unknown,” a motif that threads through the poem as the speaker repeatedly compares the unnumbered Iraqi dead with the statistics of dead Americans. The first segment of the poem ends with the ominous statement that “This is no time for poetry.”
Before the pair travel into Mexico City, other scenes appear brieflyan old man in a hut or on a burro, a woman (his wife?) who has a special dress she once wore “on the other side,” a petal fallen on the arm of a laborer who holds the statue of a saint. In the hotel the “ghoulish glow from a muted TV” shows pictures of the wreckage of Baghdad and its people, “shelled into the memory hole,” obliterating a rich past....
(The entire section is 1755 words.)