Listening to Margo Berdeshevsky
But a Passage in Wilderness by Margo Berdeshevsky captured the Dresser's attention in the same way as Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century did. The Dresser lingered over Berdeshevsky's words refusing to turn to the next poem until fully sated with the meaning, imagery, and beauty of her language. The Dresser believes each poem could bring forth many pages of commentary. Perhaps there is a doctoral thesis in this work.
CASTING THE BONES OF SELECTION
Since the task of properly reviewing this important new work is so large, the Dresser has decided in a random fashion to look at three poems that speak, though not primarily, to themes of music and opera. These poems: "In Possibility," "Every Afternoon," and "Lautrec, I've Heard, Shot Spiders" appear one each in the first three sections of the collection which is divided in a total of five parts entitled "On Frailty," "Whom Beggars Call," "The Story," "On Breaking," and "Best Love." In the world of assembling a collection of poetry, poems that open and close a section and the poem from which the title of a section is drawn tend to indicate important themes and strong individual poems. Therefore, the Dresser will make references to other poems in the collection as they inform the three poems she has chosen to look at in detail.
INVENTING A LOVING: PREY TO PRAY
At first glance, the title "In Possibility" resonates with the word impossibility. Berdeshevsky is nimble at making the reader slow down to hear what she is saying. This making the language new, in the Dresser's experience, comes from Gertrude Stein and this poem turns a Steinian phrase in the sentence: "Let the rose beetle/ invent a loving." The sentence, which appears divided over the last two lines of this poem, harkens back to the opening line "Nighthawk, beetle, how do you pray?" The word "pray" is carefully chosen and leads to "Is landscape your good silence, your breviary" but it is the homonym "prey" that grounds the complex working of the poet's intention. In nature, the beetle is prey of the nighthawk while the rose is prey to the rose beetle. But something sexual and not gastronomic happens in this poem as evidenced by such words and phrases as: "passion," "the first to bite back at spring's dark nipple," "love thrust," and "the pagan's skirts are lifted."
So how does one access the underbelly story of this poem? The Dresser decided to have a look at other poems in this section and noticed that the poem "On Frailty," (also the name of this section) contains the following lines:
Beware oh my Philomel who is not mine, but the sky's,
(am I and am I
tongue-cut and not
nightingale at all?)
Who or what is Philomel? How much time do you have? Short answer: nightingale. Long answer: In Greek mythology, Philomela (also known as Philomel) was raped by her sister Procne's husband King Tereus of Thrace and then when Philomela threatened to tell the world of his misdeed, he cut out her tongue. Through a tapestry, she told her sister what had happened and Procne decided the best way to punish her husband was to sacrifice their son who was his spitting image and serve the child up as Tereus' dinner. All three were turned into birds: Tereus, a hawk, and Procne and Philomela, alternately a swallow or a nightingale depending on whose story of Greek mythology one reads.
What happens in "In Possibility" is not a dwelling on the rape of Philomela, but a suggested transformation that comes with prayer first mentioned as "your breviary" and then in these words "Schubert-singer, ready for the first high G of 'Ave Maria.'" The Dresser discerns a nearly blasphemous irony in juxtaposing the Virgin Mary, mother of the Catholic God's child Jesus, with the rape of Philomela and the sacrifice of Procne and Tereus' son for the sin of the father. What alters this irony is this iconic image: "Let the protector of truth come down from her mythic hill, battered cloche and staff to pierce the ground so swollen with story." Who is this woman in a battered bell hat piercing the ground like Moses descending from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments? Is this Philomela, transformed to seer, with her tapestry? And what about the beetle? In "On Frailty," the Dresser noticed that a beetle rebuilds "her home in the mound" after the recitation of these losses: the village, child, notebook, faith. Therefore, the rose beetle of "In Possibility," always in danger of being plundered and eaten by the hawk, must "invent a loving" and create anew the "vernal nest."