Leave-Takings and Letting Go

March 16, 2015

Contributor’s Marginalia: Alexandra van de Kamp on “Aubade with Bicycle” by Cecily Parks

I was drawn into Cecily Park’s “Aubade with Bicycle” because of how it deftly progresses from a quiet  song and lament for the morning to a more urgent recording of how we spend time—emotionally and physically, alone and with lovers, alone and waiting for lovers. The poem starts out sleepily and lulls us into its rhythms. We are placed inside a December morning (“Seven a.m.”) and told by the speaker, in crisp increments of observation, of her need to leave her “love” to bicycle towards whatever obligations await her that day. After “hearing a glassy tapping” from her love “framed in a window,” who then “blows (her) a kiss,” the speaker matter-of-factly states, ”I want to rush back into the house/up two flights of stairs and into his arms our bed/but this is the time of day we leave each other.” In Park’s hands, this sleepy  catalog of morning actions does not long remain so, but gets ratcheted up to become a fast-paced, breathless “ride” through the first wakeful hours of a day, kaleidoscopic in its changing colors, textures and patterns.

I admire a poet that cultivates tension in her lines, and Parks is skilled at building suspense into the ordinary. The first line of her poem lists three prepositional phrases, each one delaying the inevitable action and creating a small waiting room for the reader—one in which s/he becomes more invested in discovering the “what will happen next” in this poem: “Seven a.m. in December in the middle of the street/I buckle my bike helmet and…”. I find myself asking, at this point, if buckling on a bike helmet can have me holding my breath even just a bit, what else is this “morning” capable of in this poet’s hands? I am also a sucker for a poem that bristles, whistles and hums around inside itself—unafraid to lean on its sounds as much as on more linear logic. And the sounds begin to take over as Parks presents an onrush of mini-scenes, half-images, seen by the speaker while peddling away from her lover. The poem simultaneously shifts from quotidian reportage to something more unexpected with new spaces (literally and figuratively) blown into it: “The wind blows/open the spaces between the maple branches/the parked cars almost shiver in the gusts/and I set my bicycle licking/down the wet street”.  Such words as “shiver,” “gusts” and “licking” not only please the ear with their internal rhymes, but also slap awake these images. The poem has become the bike itself—its rider moving with more momentum through this lengthening morning. We are taken along on a tour of sorts, and images, almost film-like, flicker past us: “Christmas trees fruiting/in the bushes;” “puddles count the cloud;” and “A man in the field throws a yellow ball/ there is a silvery trail through the grass where his dog gives chase.” I’m briefly reminded here of sixteenth century Dutch Landscapes with their wet silvers and bristling dark light. Meanwhile, “flecks of mud have confettied” the speaker’s “shins and thighs,” so the rainy, thick darkness of morning has become splattered on the speaker herself—she has been painted into it, so to speak. Such lovely viscosities build a world for me in a poem, and as a reader, I am now fully enmeshed in the textures and light of this moving landscape.

The best lyric poems are physically aware of their placement on the page, their innate geographies, and I admire Park’s use of line breaks to further instill suspense into the little plot of her poem. We are asked on several occasions to hover in uncanny ways at the end of a line. For instance, further on in her morning commute, the speaker claims: “and I let the bike go/….” For a half-breath, we can wonder what kind of “letting go” is occurring here. Is the speaker fully letting her bike “go,” as in freeing it somehow or tossing it down the hill? We are left suspended in mid-air, pondering many different versions of this “letting go,” before gravity takes over and the next line lands us “down the hill past the matted-barley grasses.” The poem begins to let go in other ways as well, as “the marsh opens its little wet mouths.” We are no longer in a recognizably physical world, but a more dream-like, surreal one. Now, I know, despite some of the unavoidable routines and leave-takings in this day, there are also possible (if fragile) sources of magic or glimmers of an otherworldly effervescence where marshes can suddenly bloom “little wet mouths.” Nothing is exactly what it seems or is the merely mundane.

Overall, the tone of Park’s “Aubade” feeds off of a “letting go,” a thrill in the rush of the world around us, but there are also octaves of sadness at work here. We often leave behind lovers and loves of various kinds to move through our lives, and Park’s speaker is alone in these morning sensations: “and my love must by now/be inside his car driving to work and so cannot feel this wind/blowing me back with such instance.” To echo this uneasy solitude, the poem ends on a forlorn, evocative image of the speaker “taking forever to slide by these slumped rows of cut Christmas trees that wait/ for the nursery to open for someone with gloved hands/ to run those hands over them.” The close-up of these yet-untouched, waiting trees reminds us of the hungers we can have, of the ongoing anxiety involved in waiting for such hungers to be answered, and of the possibility, always present, that we may be waiting in vain. However, the sounds waltz us through this scene, and “slumped,” “slide” and “Christmas” mingle pleasurably together, adding a lightness to the otherwise emotional heaviness. The world, for now, seems to be balancing the darker pulls against the lighter. The speaker never hesitates or loses balance on her bike, and we know she will carry on past such hungers. I turn to poetry often for such vivid inventories of the world we live in, and Parks “Aubade” has offered just that—a morning unflinchingly accounted for and vividly survived.

A native of the state of New York, Alexandra van de Kamp has recently moved to San Antonio, Texas. She has been published in numerous journals nationwide, such as: The Cincinnati Review, River Styx, Meridian, Lake Effect, The Denver Quarterly, Washington Square, Court Green, and The Connecticut Review.  Her full-length collection of poems, The Park of Upside-Down Chairs, was published by CW Books in 2010, and her chapbook, Dear Jean Seberg (2011), won the 2010 Burnside Review Chapbook Contest.  A new chapbook, A Liquid Bird inside the Night, is forthcoming in 2015 from Red Glass Books. She is a teaching artist for The Rooster Moans (www.poetrycoop.com) and teaches online workshops on the prose poem and poetry influenced by the world of film. For six years she lived in Madrid, Spain. You may see more of her poetry and prose at her website: www.alexandravandekamp.blogspot.com.

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