The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Maryanne Hannan on Diane Lockward
Temptation by Water by Diane Lockward. Wind Publications, 2010.
The temptation to read Diane Lockward's latest book, Temptation by Water, as the final volume of a trilogy, building on her two previous full-length
collections, Eve's Red Dress (Wind Publications, 2003) and What Feeds Us
(Wind Publications, 2006)—proves as irresistible as her luscious homage to peach, "Prunis
Persica." The books, with striking cover
art by Brian Rumpolo, complement each other physically and share the same
gutsy, intelligent voice, forthright exploration of a deeply particular human
life, and lavishly precise language.
Sizzle's allure is revisited in "Flash," only to
conjure up the narrator's more mature experience of heat: "An obscene
action, it brought out the bad girl in me. / Foreshadower of how, years later,
I would be mugged / by waves of heat, cascades of sweat / under my blouse, rivulets into my bra" (TBW, 51). "You think it’s easy," complains the "Ecdysiast" about the challenges of her job (TBW, 52); it sure seemed
easy to the tattooed, belly-dancer-clad "Honey, you're on your way to
Paradise" waitress in "Eve's Diner and Road Stop" (ERD, 26).
. . . their salad
days, so raw and green it seemed a miracle,
and then the undressing, the miracle
of their uncanonized bodies, the piety
of two pairs of lips sealed. [TBW, 48]
Now she is reduced to wishing her husband "less stolid," beseeching signs not of an afterlife, but a renewed life here: "and she prays for vegetables maculate and soiled." (TBW, 49)
Despite its title, I found the temptations of earth as compelling as those of water. In "Weather Report," the narrator thinks
about a man who does push-ups
not to lift himself off the ground
but to hold down the earth
and how the earth cracks
and it has nothing to do with weather. (TBW, 5)
. . .
That night she thinks
. . . about metaphors,
how one thing is always like some other thing,
. . .
. . . how desire and water
can sweep us away, and how we are all
looking for someone to push back
the waves, to grab hold of us, and keep us
here, pressed to this earth [TBW, 6]
Similar imagery, with a different twist, occurs in the final stanzas of "My Mother Turns her Back":
. . . I watch my mother
grow down, as if she carries
a burden of basket, as if
already greeting the earth. [TBW, 18]
"Cover me in filth," cries the Prodigal Daughter narrator in "My Dark Lord," "for I have lain down with pigs" (TBW, 38). "Lay me among the potatoes." "Let me be the final supper."
. . . Christen me your own dirty girl.
Immerse my body in weeds and worms.
Break me with your shovel, backhoe, and tractor,
for I have abandoned the garden and cursed the earth. (TBW, 38)
This marvelously oracular poem gains complexity as it hovers between the garden Eve so bravely evacuated and the narrator's of "My Father's Garden" experience: "It will look / like Paradise. It will feel like Hell." (ERD, 28)
The next poem, "Spying on My New Neighbors," presents another instance of vicarious love, the garden once again positive. Here, the neighbors are "tilling the soil, building their garden" (TBW, 39). They "walk off the job," tempting the narrator to
Imagine the bulbs of their bodies planted in bed,
clothes peeled and strew like petals, the furrowing [TBW, 39]
Lockward is off and running, her considerable ability to ground physical love in provocative metaphor and language to the fore. It's also worth mentioning the careful structure of Temptation by Water; poems follow upon each other, always for a reason. Often a word or image, the same or nearly so, here earth to soil, provides a bridge from one poem to the next, adding considerably to the thrill of reading.
"Supplication to Water," a poem of direct address in couplets similar to "My Dark Lord," dives directly into the water themes of the book. It arises from a simple moment of clarity, in which the narrator extrapolates cosmic guilt from a routine watering of a suburban lawn:
Afflict me, for I have squandered you on grass
green as money, then cursed you during the drought. [TBW, 61]
Once again, the language riffs with Biblical and classical cadence. "I have lain with dogs and consorted with pigs . . . . prayed for your conversion / to wine." "Let me enter the same river twice, for I am grungy." "Convert my frozen heart to cold hard cash."
More compelling than baptism by either fire or water is "the illusion of water" in the "The Temptation of Mirage," one of the book's high points. Also a direct address in couplets, this time to the universe, the speaker knows her own heart.
Save your water and green vegetation.She accepts "eternity of sand, an open-air coffin," in exchange
What I want is desert. [TBW, 79]
for one night only, quench of beauty
more real than I can bear,
closed forever by morning sun. [TBW, 79-80]
In "Desolation of Wood," Lockward entertains a fifth element from the Chinese system, wood:
. . . I want to forget
fire, air, water, and earth, want to believe
the trees are a sign I can be wood. [TBW, 73]
Even though the trees of her imaginings project the hunger she's wrestled with through all three books:
The trees stand apart from each other.
They look lonely, as if abandoned,
hungry, as if they want or need something. [TBW, 73]
Not all is serious in this book. Many poems offer Lockward's playful wit, her uncanny ability to go beneath language in "Without Words for It," her amazingly celebratory, erotic "Stripping the Lemon" and "Why I Won't Have a Full-Body Massage," and the ultra-sensual food poems, "Woman with Fruit" and "If Only Humpty Dumpty Had Been a Cookie."
Lockward prizes honesty, the truth of the human heart. If a poem goes some place, she goes with it, so the framework of trilogy that I'm suggesting does not sufficiently honor the individuality of the three books. Temptation by Water stands firmly on its own, replete with the poet's signature takes, a romp in her imaginative world. Still, the possibility of reading the three works in the context of each other was too tantalizing for this reader to pass up. With the publication of a third solid book of poetry, Lockward should be taken seriously. I, for one, am anxious to see where she goes next.
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