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Dante Di Stefano

Aphrodisiacal Nomenclatures: Dante Di Stefano Reviews Catherine Bowman’s Can I Finish, Please?


Can I Finish, Please?
Catherine Bowman
Four Way Books, 2016

Catherine Bowman’s newest collection, Can I Finish, Please?, continues to deliver the wicked, opulent, dazzling, and savory poems that have been the hallmark of her first four books. Throughout Can I Finish, Please?, Bowman fashions the makeshift apparatus of desire from unfurling alfalfa and orchard grass song, from wild ancient apple trees, tethered forepaws, and never ending rivers, from tamarind, fennel, mole negro, chicory, coriander, and bouquets of unimaginable flowers. Bowman articulates, in poem after poem, a ravenous desire to know and to be known, to be the swimmer who drifts and drowns and resuscitates herself even as she distils the ocean in a drop of rain.  These poems coast over lacustrine wetlands, prairies, spiritual geographies and sediments, leading us to “what was never lost/ where the future becomes the past.” For Bowman, the eternal present of the lyric provides the irrevocable dwelling place where future braids together with past.  

Can I Finish, Please? divides its eternal present into three sections. The long poem, “Beds,” dominates the first section with its lush exploration of amorous relationships and physical states of being. Beds, in this poem, are holsters, altars, chasms, cradles, mandalas, primal thrones, conjuror’s tables. The poem consists of an aphoristic barrage of exquisite imagery. For example, Bowman enumerates:

            This peephole. This lifeboat.
                        This tented field.

            Soaked by lunar vendetta,
                        bare-ankled, bare-chested,
                                    bare-throated, unshod,

                        this breeding ground,
                                    this Venus spread,

            this birthing rack
                        you die into each night.
                                    This job.

            This hatchery.
                        This giant cypress,
                                    a rookery for tears,

            for joy. This forcing bed
                        for hard labor, playtime,
                                    the work of dreams.

            Bed of geraniums and lily
                        and owls, proud owls.
                                    Where you are always called back—

            this wallow of red clover
                        to foal and cast
                                    out spirits.

            This urine- and rose-soaked
                        heptachord. This seawall
                                    for the mother

            of all-consuming storms.

Here, as everywhere in this collection, Bowman’s finely calibrated, ornate, diction creates an experience that is at once ethereal and earthy, simultaneously peephole and tented field, a rookery for tears and joy. If the first section of this book concerns itself, primarily, with social and linguistic couplings and uncoupling, then the second section concerns itself with exploring the intertwining of the feminine and the imagination.  The section begins with “The Frida Kahlo Tree: A Fable,” in which the artist transforms into a tree, whose magnifying-glass heart burns free her wandering selves, allowing her to feel, after work and at home, intermittent perpetual blossoms. Bowman rounds out this section with an aubade, another fable, and the remarkable, “For the Lost Women in Prisons: A Texas Two-Step.” Some of the most interesting poems in this section, however, are Bowman’s flower poems: “Twat Flower,” “Gag Flower,” “Hobo Flower,” “Thumbscrew Flower,” “Dog Flower,” et cetera. “Slit Flower” provides a characteristic example:

            self writ lo
            wife trolls
            wells for it
            slower lift
            wolf liter
            fowl tower

While not all of the flower poems consist entirely of anagrams, all of these poems share with “Slit Flower” a cheeky exuberance.

The final section of Can I Finish, Please? manifests the same exuberance as the previous two sections, but the poems here have a more narrative bent. The poem, “June 30, 2013” towers in the midst of this last group of poems. In this poem, Bowman details a ferry ride to Provincetown, Massachusetts; her poem, of course, directly addresses James Schuyler’s “June 30, 1974,” boldly starting with the same lines: “Let me tell you/ that this weekend Sunday morning…” Bowman pays homage to Schuyler while also delivering a wry and loving portrait of this minor voyage, where “all is possibility/ past and present merge.” Like the flowers at the end of her poem “The Arrangement,” each of Catherine Bowman’s poems in Can I Finish, Please? are: “stuck in their aphrodisiacal nomenclature, all spread open—/their unbearable fragility, their excruciating/ brilliance revealed, exposed.” This aphrodisiacal nomenclature reminds one of Blake’s famous statement: “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” Catherine Bowman sees the world both ways and renders it in all of its dumb greenness, in all of its unbearable fragility, and in all of its excruciating brilliance.

Dante Di Stefano’s collection of poetry, Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight, is forthcoming from Brighthorse Books. His poetry and essays have appeared in The Writer's Chronicle, Obsidian, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, The Los Angeles Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, and elsewhere.

December 18, 2017

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August 21, 2017

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July 01, 2017

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May 15, 2017

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April 17, 2017

March 31, 2017

March 20, 2017

March 04, 2017

February 20, 2017

January 16, 2017

December 19, 2016

November 21, 2016

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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