Amelia K. Bowler Reviews
Prose poems by Carol Guess, Rosemetal Press, 2008
Tinderbox Lawn lives in the hugeness of small moments, the hazards of love, and the fierceness of the mundane. It is the place you find yourself when you step past secrecy into façade, displaying photos of your brother instead of admitting your love. A place where sex and chores blur – where it’s a given that your body is commodity, but getting paid for it is punishable by death and dumping in the river.
Tinderbox Lawn’s fast pace and slight limp may trick you into reading it quickly, but is really a book that wants to be read slowly, carefully, aloud, and again – and it’s worth your time to comply. Carol Guess is skilled with sound, and her narrator’s voice is exact, imagistic, and insightful. The mood of fear and apprehension surrounding the Green River killings is the backdrop for some of her most beautiful and frightening images. “The girls are swimming. See their bright hair” follows a description of strippers’ clothing scattered like tinsel across Seattle.
Spread across Washington State, with touchstones in Seattle, Bellingham, and the south Sound grounds Gary Ridgeway prowled, Tinderbox Lawn is a statement of desire and of danger. We are invited to feel the fear that seems constant to the narrator, who says, as if reassuring herself, “Supermarkets aren’t dangerous; back alleys are dangerous.” But later the crying sex-cam neighbor brews tea with “mint so sharp it cuts teacups to shards.” And everything is about to catch on fire, and the Burlington Northern may kill you, and even the death of the refrigerator deserves mourning.
Late in the book, one section reads simply: “I may be a liar, but it’s my version of the story you’ll remember.” Through the narrator, Guess touches on a truth of individual experience – the subjectivity and selectivity of memory, so universal in its tiny intimacies. When “Freed from the constraint of narrative” she writes “You’re using your fists to solve everyday problems. I mean—your breasts to suggest sexual tension. You’re out of control. I mean—out of paper” you know that it’s all true – or perhaps that the truth doesn’t matter.
The violence of love. The shape of the state. The fragment is the whole and the echo is the statement and the memory of water is the same as being wet.
I don’t want to write a review of this book; I want to write poems about this book. Think blackberries and train tracks, think blood shed by accident and on purpose. The places you want to leave but can’t. This book is a space to live inside, a place to recognize, like being reminded of a dream.