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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Andoumboulou 17 (continued)

[This is a continuing series of posts that reflect on Nathaniel Mackey's Songs of the Andoumboulou from various angles that interest me. I take into consideration his allusions, Mackey's prose, interviews with him, and critical discussions of his work. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. To access all of the posts, click on "Nathaniel Mackey" in the list to the right.]

[I am currently discussing Mackey's book Whatsaid Serif. If for some reason you cannot buy it, many of the poems can be found here.]

The images in the next several stanzas, which are set off from the first couple by a skipped line and a dot, pertain to lakes and rumbling trains.

It would seem that a 'he' and a 'she' spend time at a "Lake they were soon to / leave," then she sees "The he she remebers not/ the he she saw stepping onto" a train.

We finish with another image of drowning: "Water up to our necks."

There are also plenty images of pulling apart, roughness, rockiness, spun, and whooshing. I think this last word, which is repeated several times, has to do with "a wind which wasn't a wind."

These characters do not seem happy about the separation. It is almost like the cutting of twins, a hollowing out, "the Andoumboulou beckoned."

The Andoumboulou live inside the earth and are a "rough draft," as Mackey refers to them, of humanity. With all the images of drowning and going beneath the earth, Mackey is transforming this split between this he and she into an emblem of the connectedness and whoosh disconnectedness of people to one another and to the earth.

Before a long, page length break in the poem which ends with a horizontal line, the "he" pockets a rock. After the line a blacksmith or someone working with blacksmith tools tries to turn the rock into a point. Finally, the "he" is knocked across the head and told not to let tools touch one another.

In the end he may die by choking on a kola nut.

But how can we be sure? This is a poem of such radically fluid identities that we cannot say anything about the characters with any confidence. Their fluidity may even put them beyond death or beyond our ability to see their death.

Instead, we have the verbs: whoosh, drown, pulled under, choked, rumble, and so on.

The poem seems to chronicle the specific ways people get buffeted into having multiple identities. They are so singular.

Such a poem risks incoherence: pronouns that are attached to no noun are then displaced by memory or other pronouns.

I have not decided yet, but this may be an instance where Mackey goes too far in exploring these issues of fluidity. Do we readers need some sort of solidity, however, impermanent, to stand on?

I am still thinking.

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