EILEEN TABIOS Engages
“INHABITED NOTHINGNESS CHAIR”
a poem in ROUGE by Kimberly Lyons
(Instance Press, Berkeley / Boulder / Brooklyn, 2012)
Sometimes, when reading through a poetry collection you come across a poem that makes the entire book worthwhile reading. This was my experience with Kimberly Lyons’ ROUGE even as I enjoyed all of the poems. The stand-out poem for me is “Inhabited Nothingness Chair.”
Granted, I bring to my reading a bias: I am often moved by the image of an empty chair. To look at an object meant to be inhabited, and yet not be inhabited—it’s a picture of abjection, depression (e.g. if the cushions have been flattened) but also of desire, of longing, of want. This is all to say, the empty chair is not usually a passive image; it’s an image longing to or about to become, even as it’s unclear whether its desire will become wo/manifested. An empty chair is about possibility. It’s about hope or aborted hope. An empty chair resonates. An empty chair presents a spirit that quivers.
Lyons’ “Inhabited Nothingness Chair” extends my years-long meditation over the image of an empty chair. The poem reveals to me that an empty chair also relates to silence. The poem begins
In the white square of my notebook
which indicates no words or marks, i.e. silence. The poem continues
girded by blue lines the faint
color of a ghost.
A ghost is often pictured as white (e.g. a white sheet), so we have here an image of white on white, a trope that many artists (Rauschenberg, Marden, Aschheim, you fill in the rest) have proven to be not static but a teeming field. Thus, in the middle of the poem, Lyons writes
To unite with nothingness, nothing engenders
only to have that thought immediately qualified by the succeeding lines
Like a baby who sees a rustle in the air
a scattering now, nothing withdraws.
such that the ephemeral nothingness—so ephemeral that its couplet is in italics which looks more fragile than non-italics—is immediately exemplified into a distinctly physical object: a baby. A baby, at least to me, is one of those words that easily conjures itself in the mind’s eye—so the reader is suddenly looking at something viscerally three-dimensional. Yet the reference just as suddenly as the conjuration of baby also quickly becomes intangible, ephemeral, again: “a rustle in the air.”
Ephemeral: what we sense about a baby is that the baby’s perspective is uncertain. In its innocence, a baby does not yet know whether air actually rustled with something or nothing—I wonder, thus, if that’s what’s indicated by the seeming binary of “a scattering now, nothing withdraws” until I realize that I could have misread that line the first time. That is, if “nothing” is a noun that withdraws that would be consistent with “scattering.” But do you see what just happened here? I am thinking and writing concurrently, and I realize that I read that line “a scattering now, nothing withdraws” as a baby—innocent or open to all interpretations and still trying to figure things out.
And so this magnificent poem continues to explore—or, per its title, inhabits—the notion of a “Nothingness Chair.” And it’s a moving journey because of the poem’s undercurrent of grief. Grief, too, would be a relevant element when one considers a chair with nothing sitting on it:
The chair is empty, Oh God.
With no one here the room is full.
By the time you read—feel—your way through the poem’s last lines, you’ve already been moved by so much such that, to read this ending—
The coffee in the cup is present in the throat
and when I look at the inhabited nothingness chair
I see you, absent.
—is both to be heartbroken and grateful. The latter, of course, attests to the deeply satisfying engagement successfully offered by the poem. What a marvel—to end the reading of a poem and feel that your reader’s chair is inhabited by more than the reader: other presences sit with you. Such, too, is what great poems can effect.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work: THE CONNOISSEUR OF ALLEYS was reviewed by Joey Madia for New Mystics Reviews, Book Masons and Literary Aficionado; and EXCAVATING THE FILIPINO IN ME was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza for "Filipina American Literature: Reading Recommendations" (Barbara Jane Reyes Blog). She released three books and two chaps in 2016, and is scheduled to release at least three publications in 2017. More info at http://eileenrtabios.com
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