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And, Oh, My Heart Goes Out

Early in Christine Poreba ’97’s moving and compelling book, Rough Knowledge (Anhinga Press), her poem “Silent Elegy” recounts how a photographer, bereaved, purposely creates through his art “small accidents”: “a pitcher crashing to the floor in slow motion, / its contents pouring out over and over.”

This image eloquently recalls the process Freud called “fort/da”—basically “gone, then there”—through which, he posited, children manage the fear of a mother’s absence by throwing their toys out of sight. Poreba’s book works in just this way. It continually anticipates loss, and—in recognizing its possibility—continually defers it, manages it, sets it gingerly to one side: a model airplane flies “into the light of things that were / about to end”; a woman soon to be married dreams “a world / which one of us / will be first to leave”; a visitor to an exhibition of miniature rooms wonders, “Is this what the world will look like when we’re gone?” 

This pattern of deferred or managed trauma is particularly clear in poems that circle a fear of flight. First, a butterfly strikes a windshield “with the force / of a harsh current of sky.” Then a woman dreams of flying, “a simple breaststroke / in the air,” and flies her model plane: “If only other things were this easy to let go.” But a poem about the rituals we deploy to manage risks, “tiny as the chances of being a passenger / in flames,” ends with a crash, and subsequent poems imagine further dangers, culminating in an actual air disaster, the passengers “not alive when I awoke,” “and, oh, my heart goes out.”

That’s Poreba’s last line, and the whole book stands behind it, giving it the full heft of true concern.

—NATHALIE ANDERSON is director of creative writing as well as the Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English Literature.