Review of The Clock of the Long Now
by Marion Boyer
Mayapple Press, 2009
Reviewed by Jeanne Lesinski
Gail Lumet Buckley, daughter of singer and actress Lena Horne and author of The Hornes: An American Family, once likened faces to magic mirrors: "Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future." In The Clock of the Long Now, a collection of narrative poems, Mattawan resident Marion Boyer uses a similar metaphor—her loved ones make up the clock faces by which time is measured. So true. New parents know that their perception of time changes irrevocably with the infant's arrival. Suddenly, they measure life by the increments of a son or daughter's age, as if it were not only a tape measure marked hash by hash up the wall, but a time machine capable of journeying from the past to the future.
As befitting any treatment of time, memory is crucial. The ability to recall past events and knowledge is an overarching theme of the collection, as in the portrayal of "the world memory champion" whose "greatest challenge is learning to forget." In an age of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTS), controlled forgetting might offer much needed relief, but at what cost to the self, we are left to wonder.
In other poignant poems the forgetting is involuntary. The section titled "From the Brown Shadows," which references a poem by the same title, contains poems about an elderly father in an Alzheimer's care facility. These brown shadows recall a painting by Flemish master Peter Paul Reubens, and though they may not be the key image of the poem, they are the place from which the persona observes the drama represented within the lighted area. Tellingly, these shadows aren't black, but the sepia of ambivalence and ambiguity—of liver spots and vulnerability. Family members living along the spectrum of this painful timeline will likely appreciate the images and symbolism of this section of Long Now.
From amidst all of this remembering and forgetting appears the courage of daffodils risking the snow to rise from clod-colored bulbs and cicadas emerging transformed after a long underground metamorphosis. In "I Suddenly Respect the Daffodils," Boyer’s persona deeply appreciates
the sadness an octopus must endure with its sharp eyes and
three hearts, the fly inside my window believing there is a way out.
Suddenly, I respect cheerleaders in their tiny skirts who kick up
their legs even though the score is hopeless. Look at that one,
doing a back flip even though her mother has a lump in her breast
and the lab won’t call until Monday.
Who hasn't waited for test results? Who hasn't wondered what kind of solution might arise, if any at all? Who hasn't felt the cold snow of anxiety on her shoulders? Boyer captures this experience without lapsing into melodrama.
Time can also be measured as "An Eyelash Away from Zero" and with it the fragility of all life. Vicariously living the sudden release of a methane cloud trapped beneath water or the four-year-old niece’s succumbing to H1N1 in a mere day despite the best medical care in the world heighten our awareness of this thin scrim between here and gone. Perhaps these events leave us reeling; perhaps they engender action; hopefully, they do not tick by unnoticed.
© Jeanne Lesinski, 2009