Review of The Glass Factory by Marilyn McCabe
By Alice Weiss
Marilyn McCabe is a poet of neighboring upstate New York, its rural emptiness and disused railroad tracks and, also of cosmopolitan, intellectual spaces. In her most recent book, The Glass Factory, the poems are characterized by arrow-sleek natural imagery, philosophical precision, and subtly shifting lenses. Take the poem “The Face of the Waters.” Unabashedly alluding to Genesis, her speaker positions herself to question the very basis of the ‘sacred’ metaphor, “What moves on the face of the water but the wind, the sky, the restless eye of the clouds.” seeming to be only lyrical, but attempting to find realism in the metaphor of God’s face on the water. ‘Restless eyes.’ we think, OK, clouds reflecting in the water, almost mechanical, but then her mind plays with the image. “Water thirsts at island’s edge.” It is a process that happens often in these poems, the speaker is taken over, almost slyly by the image she stretches for. The water thirsting, the reversal, instead of merely extending the image, upstages it. A narrative emerges at the edge of the water. The speaker is at a campsite. A bear has visited in the night, again. “In the morning I put my hand/ in the print of the bear’s sole. . .” The risky pun teases us. It doesn’t seem up to the thirsting water, but it introduces a shift, almost of levity, then, staring at the horizon, earth, heaven, water, in between, the speaker seems to restart, reassess, break camp, to canoe, a “long row home”
in God’s teeth
his shuffling nostrils
scent of musk, damp duckweed.
finally letting herself and us flow into vivid interplay with the animal and biblical, not to say comical presences.
This fracturing of tone, imagery and narrative and for that matter, voice,is implied in the book’s title, “Glass factory:” the lens, the fragility, the heat of making glass, the danger, the shards. Often, as in the “Face of the Waters,” The speaker contemplates the unreliability of her vision. “The Dark Is Shifting Almost Imperceptively.” is another poem where the reader is fooled, this time by the proselike “almost imperceptively” What is really shifting the poem asks. Don’t trust me, she seems to say, but play with me while I figure out what I know and how I know it.
These poems reveal a speaker whose world is broad populated . Her populations include the cedar waxwing, Orion in the night sky, the body, skin. “Dermis” is a meditation on this “vast organ”, its edges, its layers, “layered, it sheds, unthreads as a rag” images seem to stone the very strands of the narrators’s voice, a danger with all this glass around. Her eyes pick up other lenses: Magritte’s light, undoing the dying, “You can slip out behind the trees/ Get while the going is good;” Munch’s Melancholy; a sculptor, new to me, Goldsworthy, (google it) whose works are constructed to entwine with the landscape. In her three part poem, “Goldsworthy Variations,” McCabe finds in his art a passion for her own art: “what nature tosses, man must assemble,” a decisive counterpoint to the brokenness she finds in her world. Harsh rural and industrial landscapes appear in these poems, copious and abandoned. It is an America she catches broadly strewn with broken things where “time is not so much the healer as the peeling label torn of its shelf life.”