Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Out of Time, Running by Edward Nudelman
Review by Alice Weiss
I am often afraid of seeing what there is to see. I think many of us are like this but not Edward Nudelman. He is hungry to see and running out of time for it. As the punning title suggests he wants to look both at time and outside time. What he wants to see is a world populated, of course, by loved ones, and memories, and nature, but his nature is both apparent and microscopic, complex and surprisingly visual. In this book he is both poet and scientist.
Indeed, the poem which seemed to me the richest in this rich set, “Biochemist in a Cold Room,” takes place in a laboratory late at night. Placing drops of liquid into glass tubes, the speaker observes, “Each shivering microliter bifurcates: equal parts myth and discovery.” And that is his journey, myth and discovery, or his landscape. Later in this poem he reflects,
It’s a good thing I’m here
in the middle of the night
when the error of judgment
is less pronounced, when artifact
more easily passes for breakthrough.
Here is the juncture of scientist and poet, and the contradiction. For the scientist, an error of judgment may be disastrous, but for the poet it’s a ‘good thing’ for artifact to “pass for breakthrough,” and a good thing for it to be easy, or is it? What does it say if late at night the “error of judgment is less pronounced.” It has to do with seeing, I think and that is the complex maneuver of this book. For what is there to see. “Can one discern” he asks in another poem, “a single dot/in a sea of pixels?”
In “Melody of Complaint,” the opening poem, the visible landscape is his home where “[f]aith would warm his hands if he had it. . .and doubt would hog the room . . but his mood
shrinks this house into a cell
. . .[of] wants and wills. A desk riddled with sheets
and letters and numbers.
Above the bookcase leaded
with broken glass, tulips
in a glass jar begging for light.
Everything as it were
begging for light.
There are all these details, these cells, these atoms, (one of the poems is titled “ Subatomic Rambling”) observable, visible, but also disappearing, begging, one thinks, for another kind of light, another way of focusing. In “Monk Inside,” he both is and is not “scientist, mud-god, skunk of wisdom,” and addressing this god of science, part of him, but not, he demands “. . .[S]peak to me no more in your native tongue of secrets
unblanketed. . .
Restless I am for the lapping moon
and the first birds of morning. . .
And so who is the monk inside? In “Id Ridden” there is some kind of answer. He imagines himself fading into the background “while countless unrecognizable me’s creep forward in stealth. . .sit down with me/ at night, share my silverware. . .
perhaps it’s better that way
not knowing the real you,
. so you can “let it slip out between the lines…”where he has, in any event, . . .never found anything but blank space. “What’s ironic about grief is that it never fully goes away and that’s what makes it tolerable.” “The whole idea of bee is getting softer.” Taking down a roof, he props a ladder partly in a flower bed, “somewhere between heroism and outright idiocy.” So he is a changeling.
And in his poem “Lizard Status,” he, the elaborator of visions and implausible explanations, disgusted with the state of being human, posturing in words like ‘skewered’ and ‘nictitating,’ and ‘ unbridled brine’ slows, finding something wonderful in lizardness announces,
Here am I, coming to rest on linen. A pear.