08 February 2012

To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met

To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met
by Mary Kathryn Jablonski
A.P.D. (The Alternative Press for Albany Poets), 2008
21 pages, $8.00

Reviewed by Mary Ellen Geer

One of the things I like best, as both a reader and writer of poetry, is poetry that takes off from the imagination, poems that lead the reader into imaginary scenes or situations. Which is why this chapbook appealed to me as soon as I saw the title—these poems are based on an imagined scenario, a husband who does not yet exist (in the poet’s present world, at least). Throughout this book the boundaries between past, present, and future are permeable, constantly shifting, as Jablonski says in a poem about a visit to the post office: “I go there expecting messages/ from the past or future, in a tiny/ locked box that opens to another world . . .”

The first section of the book, “Prelude,” consists of five poems situated in landscapes that are  real and imaginary at the same time—there are place names including the seas of the moon as well as actual towns and rivers in Vermont (all of them identified in the helpful notes at the end of the book). There is some gorgeous language in these poems—the first one begins: “Take me to that floating light in fractals, / conjuring new hues of remedy mirrored/ in the meniscus. Drive me back to Mary Lane/ past Hebron and the great blue heron” and ends with these stunning lines: “this place in all the universe has marked us./ Let that which is visible and brought to naught/ dissolve. Let me perish in concern for this life.”

In these opening poems the poet is searching for an elusive companion who is at once in the past, present, and future: “I am lost in a swarm of snow./ Turning, you are everywhere again./ I hear you to the left and then behind me,/ leading me back, a drone from the past.” She is also searching for a lost child: “I send out/ the empty boat for the solitary one/ who wakes me weeping, her nightsong like/ a cello.” These poems are mysterious and beautiful. In the second section, which consists of twelve “letters” addressed to the imagined husband, the tone and language are quite different—conversational, often humorous, but always interesting as the poet plays with imaginary scenarios: “In the years I’ve spent waiting for you/ I have thought: if you do not come this spring/ I will turn back into the earth, I will learn/ to drive a truck with a stick, I’ll get a dog,/ although I established myself as a cat/ person long ago” (Letter 1). “I’ve decided/ even after you arrive, I’ll write/ as though you haven’t. I hope that saying this/ won’t jinx me . . . /You will love how transparently I lie” (Letter 8). This is one of my favorites (from Letter 5):

I already told you this and it’s true:
if you do not come this year, I will get
a dog. I tell you now that I will name him
Husband. Do not interpret this to mean
that I have lost all hope. He will be Hubby
for short: not a toy, not pure bred, a mutt
from the pound, a grateful sort, older of course,
strong, silent obedient, yet set in his ways.
When I walk him I can finally say,
Have you met my Husband? I’ll take him
into town, and he will hump the legs
of younger bitches I am jealous of . . .

Humor, longing, and resignation are mingled in these poems: “A ghost of a husband is no kind/of husband but sometimes the only/ husband that one gets in this life . . .” In the end, it’s the longing that is strongest: “This is my desire: that you will speak/ to me in a completely different language/ and believe only the verse of my flesh.” It’s hard to pull off a collection of poems with so many shifts in tone, but Jablonski succeeds because the imagined scenarios are so compelling, and because her language and images and references are so rich.

A final note: the poet designed this chapbook herself, and the layout of the poems as well as the cover design (with a beautiful woodcut by Allen Grindle) are very effective—a reminder that a well-designed book adds to the pleasure of reading it.