In my recent microreview & interview of Rodney Gomez’s Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress Publications), I identified a manner of listing engaged with throughout the collection. One thing that such skilled listing points to is a poet’s capacity for attention. In lists, attention works in an almost syncopated manner. In “Cartography” (below), this attention is given free range to develop a more fluid metaphorical framework that honors the human scene portrayed.
Given the opening push of the title, the poem begins by mapping the emotional landscape of the speaker’s being by his dying mother’s bedside, and does so by braiding technical language with image and the language of feeling. The opening image of “a pair of nebulized hands / twitched their telemetry of regret” sets a tone of urgency. This tone is deepened through the images of “lightning” under skin and “the bed held her like an eel behind glass.” However, between these two moments the speaker notes that “The mouth asked to be studied / and then forgotten.” These lines do a dual gesture in that they acknowledge the fleeting nature of the moment but also the equally urgent need for attention.
This attention continues to be pushed against as the poem develops. The sharp imagery of the mother described as “Stumbling along that bundle / of concertina wire and a hospital gown,” for example, is tested against the speaker noting later that “Except for the thud of the rolling pin, / I’d hardly known she was there.” This braiding of noting what is there and what keeps changing evokes the speaker’s emotional turmoil. By the poem’s end, the visual world gives way to sound, at which point the speaker himself is resigned to one final admission of being unable to hold onto more than this moment caught in lyric attention.
Cartography – Rodney Gomez
In the tundra of the very last day
a pair of nebulized hands
twitched their telemetry of regret.
Lightning pulled itself like a pearl
necklace from under the waxy
skin. The mouth asked to be studied
and then forgotten.
I quickly unfastened a yoke from her neck.
Still, the bed held her like an eel behind glass.
Stumbling along that bundle
of concertina wire and a hospital gown,
I found a mother folding a paper cone.
Except for the thud of the rolling pin,
I’d hardly known she was there.
She begged my father to pull
the trach tube from her throat:
as easy as dislodging a leech
from wet skin. She did it herself
when we’d fallen asleep. Pretend
I’m not here, she mumbled through blue
lips. The first time I noticed how
they resembled cracked cement.
How the sound of their grating
was a map for all visible things.
I’ve never been capable of cartography.
Citizens of the Mausoleum can be purchased from Sundress Publications.