Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day Two - The Peace That So Lovingly Descends - Noelle Kocot


"You" have transformed into "my loss."
The nettles in your vanished hair
Restore the absolute truth
Of warring animals without a haven.
I know, I'm as pathetic as a railroad
Without tracks. In June, I eat
The lonesome berries from the branches.
What can I say, except the forecast
Never changes. I sleep without you,
And the letters that you sent
Are now faded into failed lessons
Of an animal that's found a home. This.

---Noelle Kocot

The Peace That So Lovingly Descends by Noelle Kocot

Rarely do I come away satisfied from a poem that disorients me, fills me with a bitter longing, and wraps me in the tattered remains of grief. Noelle Kocot’s The Peace That So Lovingly Descends has a tongue-in-cheek title that ironically juxtaposes with a poem that presents the domestication of tormented loss. I can’t put my finger on it, but something about this poem reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art. Kocot, who slips in a line from Bishop as an epigraph to another of her poems, might like this comparison. Yes, both poems focus on loss, but after that blatant similarity there’s little else I can concretely produce to link the two poems together. Even so, I feel an evolutionary poetic link between them, almost as if the emotional realm of loss is prone to modernity on the surface just like everything else, but it’s core principles remain the same.

So why is this poem a new favorite of mine? An easy answer would be the simile “I’m as pathetic as a railroad / Without tracks.” That is a magnificent piece of writing and upon closer examination of some of Kocot’s other poems, she is a master craftswoman of similes and metaphors. But it’s just a single simile? Okay, okay, I hear you and I understand you want more. Notice the usage of quotation marks in the first line of the poem. Kocot takes a risk to use the equivalent of “air quotes” to smash the readers upside the head with a crucial point: a loved one is gone. And as if that isn’t enough, Kocot’s speaker has felt the effects of overwhelming grief, reverting to a state of primordial savagery. We read of “warring animals without a haven” and when she recalls letters the loved and lost one sent they are “failed lessons / Of an animal that’s found a home.” Heck, she even admits “I eat / The lonesome berries from the branches.”

Upon second thought, there is a key difference between the speaker in Kocot’s poem and the speaker in Bishop’s One Art. Kocot’s speaker has resigned herself to being “pathetic as a railroad / Without tracks.” She knows that “the forecast / Never changes” and the home she’s made for herself in her grief and longing is confirmed by the lonely surrender of a one word final line: “This.” The brief glimpse of life presented in the poem is hers, she doesn’t need coaxing to accept it. This is the point of divergence with One Art, because Bishop’s speaker is guarded and doesn’t mention the lost loved one until her final stanza. It’s in this final stanza that she must urge herself onward: “It’s evident / the art of losing’s not too hard to master / though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.” Whereas Kocot’s speaker has accepted her loss in a far from lovingly descending state of peace, Bishop’s speaker is at odds with herself and the bravado required to brush off the loss of true love as mere skill to be mastered. In both cases, we as readers, are fortunate to have poetry that stretches loss far beyond railroads without tracks.

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