introduced by Genine Lentine
Erica Ehrenberg writes densely infinite poems, their strangeness the strangeness of what is right before our eyes. I've been reading Erica's poems, listening to them on the phone, for over a decade, and still I am never prepared for what they hold. An astonishingly fine-tuned perception—psychologically astute, scientifically precise, metaphysically nimble—is in play in these poems. Her poems encompass massive scale shifts in the scope of a few lines, or a few syllables.
The temporal dilation I feel as I read Erica's poems brings to mind the art historian David Joselit's characterization of paintings as "time batteries," or "exorbitant stockpiles" of experience and information. But of what order is the information we find in Erica's poems? And how exactly did she come by this information? This is the constant question and miracle of these poems.
Phil Levine remarked once upon reading a poem Erica brought to our workshop at NYU, "I need to spend more time in Erica's world." Her sights are trained on what is almost too subtle to speak of, that which is, to borrow a phrase from Flann O'Brien, "nearly half the size of ordinary invisibility."
There's a deep sanity, at times a tectonic humor, in Erica's poems that comes from meeting discomfort so directly no space remains between experience, instinct, and language. When I say discomfort, I include joy along with grief; I say it in celebration of the inquiry these poems undertake so thoroughly into the hairsbreadth fit of our idea of living and of actual life.
BRUNO GOES TO THE CITY OF THE NIGHT TO PLEAD FOR HIS POSSESSIONS
Bruno goes to the city of the night to plead for his possessions,
THE FOX MEN
On occasion, in certain houses and shops, she'll see a man with the face of a fox. A blue truck comes through the town and twenty or thirty of them come down. The baker says they are building a mountain made of ice crystals reaching up into a cloud. On certain days she can feel the shadow of the un-built mountain rise over her bed-sheets. Even the shadow is jagged. Even the shadow is white.
She can smell them enter a room. When she is standing at the back of the grocer's peering down into a barrel of pickles, the entrance of one or two of them into the store makes her shiver as if something cold and wet like mucus had been pressed against her neck. She runs out the back door, through the pigsty, the mud up to her calves, out to the lot where there is an ice-caked refrigerator two local boys open and close in intervals, as if gathering water for a fire. Their clothes are soaked with the smell of meat.
As night falls, she stares into the air where there is now a thick conglomeration of stars in one quadrant of the sky as if the whole dome had been tilted. In the heaviest part, close to the mountain, the stars gather.
A procession down the street—the funeral of a pelican, whose body is laid in a wooden box, its legs folded, so thin it is only possible to see them where they cross. Certain inhabitants hide their faces. The mountain stays uncapped, full of crags, the sun pours into it.
SIGNS OF DANGER
My father is sent away from the city
TO GET TO THE WAY STATION WHERE BRUNO MUST FUMIGATE
To get to the way station where Bruno must fumigate
BRUNO WON'T SETTLE DOWN
For two weeks this has been going on and Bruno won't settle down: