There’s Nothing More Dangerous Than a Wounded Animal
Somehow a bear trap has snapped in the streets of New York City. Abigail Kirby Conklin’s speaker drags this intimate companion of hideous weight along the cracked sidewalks of New York into playhouses, subways and bathrooms. Triage‘s wary verses bite and claw at the readers who try to shuffle forward for a closer look. The teeth of abominable history, crowded loneliness and embittered isolation sink deeper with each stubborn step. Conklin’s poetry at first refuses to allow a moment of vulnerability in order for some kind hand to help disengage this painful apparatus.
“You ever want / someone so much, / your chest empties out?” asks the speaker in the opening poem “Brutality”. As soon as the chapbook begins, readers are faced with an open chest wound, a bleeding heart beating too fast to measure. Now, the medical term ‘triage’ is defined as the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds, but can this application of modern medicine cure the soul? The ‘patient’ is a particularly difficult one at that. Conklin’s speaker is always on the defensive, hiding the extent of their injuries as can been witnessed in the quick withdrawal of painful honesty in the final lines of the aforementioned piece: “Yeah. / Me neither.”
This is angry poetry. A coursing, cursing stream of raging sobs. The pain which accompanies this chapbook almost seems to drive the speaker to the brink. Conklin’s work holds such violence even in a piece like “Livestock Management” which focuses on the subject of love. “I want to force a fist / in your chest…,” the verses growl. “I want to eat your freed heart raw…” Intense passion is no stranger to love and lust but this declaration of an almost feral need to exert control over another being will leave readers frantically whispering, “Run!” to the poem’s subject.
The immense despair in tied to these words is perfectly illustrated when the speaker admits, “I do not realize / I have begun to scream / until the gravel buildup / in my throat strangles / its own sound.” Conklin writes with the vigor of an entrapped animal that only the dread of an existential crisis can bring.
An uneasy peace does seem to appear as the chapbook progresses. The volatile nature of the work begins to unwind, slightly, as if the speaker has been handed a cup of soothing herbal tea. And as the speaker ends their mad capped thrashing, the spiritual bear trap is loosened. It is when the verses stop their constant defensive attacks that the speaker actually trips into a tepid calm.
“Seasons” reads as if the speaker is slipping into a medicated sleep. It still holds the snap of Conklin’s early poems but there is a new layer of languidness not seen before. As the speaker drifts off, they dream of Persephone:
But I imagine her, each spring, crouched
below the openings in the Earth
with palms upturned in faith
that spring will come. Thaw will streak the marble skin
of exhausted ice overhead.
There is, dare it be said, hope in these lines. Hope for those people like Persephone who are choked below, wishing to resurface into the spring of their lives. Perhaps there is hope for the speaker as well.
Conklin’s poetry is vivid, informed and rich in poetic value. There can be nothing ill to say in regards to her construction. She is thoughtful and careful when it comes to the use of repetition. She doesn’t rely on it as a crutch. The recurring lines appear naturally, gliding into place. Triage will be released in January 2020 through Duck Lake Books. Happily, it is available for pre-order.
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