11 March 2007 | Vol. 7, No. 1
If Eurydice Is Your Father: Beckian Fritz Goldberg's Lie Awake Lake
Lie Awake Lake
Beckian Fritz Goldberg
Oberlin College Press, 2005.
72 pages. $14.95.
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If the body can slip into Nothingness as easily as it can slip into memory, then we will be haunted, bewildered, overwhelmed by distance, our grief forced into song. And if we are to sing, like Orpheus, in search of the past, of understanding the past as flesh—of remembering our childhood, the wren drowned in the pool, the vacation to the lake, and Father speaking kindly—perhaps we'll find it in the confusion of the senses. If Eurydice is your Father, and you are left to examine the world, singing on your drive home your rock ballad to the flares lingering in that nightly stadium of stars, then you might be Beckian Fritz Goldberg in Lie Awake Lake, with your eyes on the past and your mouth opened furiously on a "Godshot."
This, her fourth book of poetry, is centered around a devastation: the loss of the beloved. The death of her father forces this poet to question the nature of the corporeal, mortal realm that, for all its decadent sensual delirium, fails, ends in "mysteries, immortals, gas." Though beings of the flesh must disappear, our loss of them is imperfect, complicated by the fact that we remember and imagine and long for them.
The delirious confusions of Fritz Goldberg's text—striking for its linguistic, inventive playfulness—are also the confusions of the flesh stunned by longing. Desire in the body, she writes, is "confused by the enchantment / of the wrong orifice." Indeed, the first poem of the collection, "Prologue as Part of the Body," is nothing less than our instruction:
the flower to the ear
the flute to the palm, the glittering mirror to
the back of the head, the steaming rice and the plums
to the feet, to the vertebrae, to the pineal gland.
Here the poet introduces us to the sensual confusions of the body and the world indicative of the rest of her book as she searches the blissful misunderstandings between the living body and the remembered past. How else, her poems seem to insist, do we make sense of loss, as loss so ruinously intoxicates?
Lie Awake Lake is thus a book concerned with the distance between two times, memory and experience. There isn't a way back to any beautiful time with her dying father, though she writes to him
all my love for you
you couldn't take it where
you were going…
arms by your side
like a clock
According to Fritz Goldberg, Death is a merciful unpetaling, the lovely dismemberment of our lives. "There is no / substitute for thing" she writes in "Blossom at the End of the Body," "Not love, not happiness / not faith. But flower. But flower. But flower." These poems eulogize the problem of the body, which is the problem of human desire.
In her work, the body, like the world, begins and ends in pieces. A short catalogue of her poems contemplate the severed: foot, tongue, hand, heart, eye, and blood. In odes to these individual body parts, Fritz Goldberg interrogates each part, asking it, when. Consider "Blood":
At night, blood
won't shut its mouth.
The starlings return and knock
the window outside
from inside where their moon is.
Like them I am astounded off the body.
If grief dismembers, then here is Fritz Goldberg as girl-Orpheus, hanging over the dismembered body of her memory. "Where are you is a part of my body," she remarks, in "Question as Part of the Body" and in the same poem, "How do we not die?" This mode of questioning is indicative of grief itself, that cannot be answered, but whose very cry is song. The body cannot escape time, and these poems philosophize body as both flesh and abstraction: memory questioning experience.
Furthermore, the poems "Question" and "Answer," in the wrong order, playfully offer us Fritz Goldberg's elegiac strategy. Time is illogical, non-linear, and what is significant in our lives is often confusing, the way meaning eludes us. If the "Answer" is "Yes, I'd go back—… I'd never come…" then the "Question" must be, what if you
could stop time
and if all water were the stillest water
and if all light were the constantest
light and if
the flesh did not forget us
but it does forget us
the only moment
and it forgets.
In "Diving Horse Shuffle" she remarks directly, "At the point where our joy is greatest why don't we die." In the end, that's what this book does, it goes back to the greatest joy, to the car and the lake and the memory and the real father and not the ghost, and it faces a remembrance.
A poet must try and make sense of the enormity of loss that steeps our life with difficult meaning. The great achievement of Fritz Goldberg's text is that grief remains unanswerable and alluring. It's the imagined, vulnerable calf led through the city in "One More," or the vision of a city's balconies and windows in "The Railing," where we face the evidence of the world as seen by a girl who's just lost her father, a world suffused with absence: "each brick / bearing the weight of another." Where we might expect heavy-handedness and painful confessionalism, Fritz Goldberg's poems are buoyant, and like the title of her collection, filled with linguistic, frolicsome concentration.
The legend of the body is that it was created whole: "The world began" she corrects us, "with destruction, not creation." The poem "Legend" is the heart of her book, the middle with "humming on either side," and it serves as a kind of imaginative thesis. Her task is to love the pieces as she's caught in their awful wonder. In the end, she is the poet accomplishing her own vision, since
It remained for one
who loved the body to wander
the earth in search of the pieces.
It is in this confusion, this failure of the body to stay, that we find ourselves hope-struck in fantastic, floral, oral and olfactory and tactile array, disarraying decay. To have a life, put simply, is nothing more than a sensuous, temporal illusion. And if this presumption is true, then we just as easily find our happiness in a memory—what Mark Doty in Still Life for Oysters and Lemon has called, "a moment of attention." Lie Awake Lake is testament to this attention, and what we're left with is this difficult and arresting life of poetry. A lesser poet would surely fail the experience of such loss, but Fritz Goldberg wholly confounds and wounds.
Beckian Fritz Goldberg holds an MFA from Vermont College and is the author of several volumes of poetry, Body Betrayer (Cleveland State UP, 1991), In the Badlands of Desire (Cleveland State UP, 1993), Never Be the Horse (U of Akron P, 1999), and Twentieth Century Children, a limited edition chapbook, (Graphic Design Press, Indiana U, 1999). Her work has appeared widely in anthologies and journals including, the American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry 1995, Field, the Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, the Iowa Review, New American Poets of the 90s, and the Massachusetts Review. She has been awarded the Theodore Roethke Poetry Prize, the Gettysburg Review Annual Poetry Award, the University of Akron Press Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize. Currently, Goldberg teaches Creative Writing at Arizona State University. Her most recent collection of poetry is The Book of Accident (University of Akron Press, 2006).
About the author:
Miguel Murphy is the author of A Book Called Rats, a recipient of the Blue Lynx Prize for poetry. His reviews have also appeared in RAIN TAXI.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Miguel Murphy at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 7, No. 1, where "If Eurydice Is Your Father: Beckian Fritz Goldberg's Lie Awake Lake" ran on March 11, 2007. List other work with these same labels: nonfiction, review, review of poetry.