Forms of Intercession by Jayne Pupek
(Mayapple Press, Bay City, MI, 2008)
Jayne Pupek has written, in her powerful first book of poems, many things that others do not dare. The “I” in her poems must make hard decisions, take risks like a poet should, look for truth in the “yellow envelope [of] bad news.” (from “Forms of Intercession” p.8) Forms of Intercession begins quickly and comes hard.
… I’m too old to wait on a redeemer.
Sometimes you must intercede on your own behalf.
I’m spreading tarot cards on the ground
and tossing out the ones that land upside down.
(from “Forms of Intercession” p.8)
Making her own fate, Pupek enters the world of madness many will not admit to, if, indeed, they even know. Perhaps, she is a part of this madness. Perhaps, not. Perhaps, she’s only an observer, affected by the madness of others. She sees the madness. Of this, we are sure. No wonder “a woman wrestle[s] a dog to the ground./ She wants his bone” (from “Lunch Hour,” p. 17). No wonder Pupek’s questions and observations seem as poignant.
Doesn’t he see the bats bleeding?
Blue-gray veins are pipettes snapped in half.
Wounds like the mouths of whores.
I’ve fallen into the custody of raspberry stains.
I kneel on the floor, rock myself into a fetal curl.
Overhead, blind angels flutter, shit, and cry.
(from “Inkblots,” p. 22)
Pupek is a poet’s poet, saying the things many of us often merely think. A poet’s bolder than a preacher or should be.
There is more hope in cup of coffee
than in a stack of holy books, unless you count
books of poems, paper chariots of the profane.
(from “Forms of Intercession,” p. 7)
She dreams of birds, “boils[s] water, stir[s] in/ clipped hair and feathers,” (from “Omens for a Prolonged Winter,” p.1) perhaps because she knows “there is never any lemonade” (from “Forms of Intercession” p.7), and she is sensible enough to ”show [her] own breasts, round and featherless” (from “The Scarecrow Who Would Be Poet Who Would Be Revolutionary” p. 12). The “I” is not a bird, but she knows birds. All of Pupek’s characters seem to be female, unless otherwise indicated, and as they return to her dreams as “black marauders falling from God’s sky” (from “Buzzards,” p. 92).
To a bird, all edible specks are food….
I sip coffee in the porch step
and count morning glories
climbing my clothesline pole….
Improbable things happen
when you spit into an open hand
and imagine a blind man’s kisses
(from “Improbable Things,” p.10)
Poets are told to embrace their passions, and Jayne Pupek has—unquestionably. Not only does she use her experiences as a mental health professional from which to draw keen examples but she hones each image so that it contributes to the overall madness she calls life. Many of the poems are set in darkness and dreams, where images can be conjoined, one to another.
It’s not only spiders and sickness that keep me awake.
Sometimes it’s the notion of a stove left burning,…
Tonight it’s the telephone, mute and indifferent
in its black cradle,
…My breath is a chant
commanding bells to ring.
(from “Awake,” p.80)
Only a woman could have written these poems. Only a woman would have such experience. Only a woman who has seen the madness: from the common to the extended to the crazy.
The technician says to hold my breath.
I want to tell him I’ve been holding my breath
(from “Mammogram,” p. 87)
I crave strawberries out of season, eat an apple instead.
Dissatisfied, I spit seeds and core on my livingroom floor.
and storm out for the night. I chase a girl down the street
her shirt covered in strawberries.
(from “Observations,” p. 26)
There are stories I don’t want to live,
don’t want to tell, don’t want to write down.
This is one of them: In Kansas, a mother
beheaded her child. Neighbors found the body
in a grassy ravine. A few days later, police found
the bagged head. A small mouth opens
a cavern of milkteeth and flies.
(from “Stories,” p. 28)
Images of dark animals populate Pupek’s poems. As she goes beyond metaphor, she stretches her images until they bleed and distort. She invites chaos, when she combines the animal, the vegetable, and the sexual. “In my secret life, angels consort with horses./ I’ve chosen to tell no one,” (from “Forms of Intercession,” p. 7) she tells us.
What lives below the surface does not
long for light, but tunnels like a mole
towards the core of past mistakes….
(from “Underground,” p. 29)
… smells of gardenias and sweat.
I want to catch her breath in a paper cup
and save to drink again. Instead,
I sit at my desk, watch her eyes
scan my dreams.
(from “After Sex,” p. 40)
Not one to shy away, Pupek finds truth in the sexually crude. “I said the tomatoes looked like cunts./ He said so do roses and handed me a mirror” (from “After a Quarrel,” p. 49). And then, “I feed them poisoned melons/ but they come back, resurrected” (from “Ants,” p. 77).
Filled throughout with images of darkness—of night and sickness, of murder and suicide—Pupek’s Forms of Intercession closes on a positive note. She’s as positive as one can be in the world she describes.
I want back the evening
we sat on stone benches
in your garden
and breathed lilacs
under the fading sky….
Maybe this time,
we’d receive fair warning.
Mine would foretell
tears and dark dresses;
your, a far journey
in a boat strewn with flowers.
(from “Chapel Thoughts,” p. 90)
Pupek concludes by “go[ing] on,/ because it is in us, the need for continuance,/ that sliver of persistence inside every cell” (from “Sliver,” p. 94). It is that sliver we might call hope, and it is that hope that caused the intercession: She’s back where she began— “Just give me honey-glazed donut/ and day-old coffee loaded with cream, a dram of rum to wash it down” (from “Hospice,” p. 89)—and yet she has enlarged the ways to intercede, for herself and us all. Jayne Pupek knows, we are all dreaming—no matter the state of the world with which we must cope. And she appears to drinks lots and lots of coffee.
Helen Losse is a poet, free lance writer, and Poetry Editor of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her recent poetry publications include Shape of a Box, Lily, Ghoti, The Wild Goose Poetry Review, Right Hand Pointing, and Blue Fifth Review. She has two chapbooks, Gathering the Broken Pieces, available from FootHills Publishing and Paper Snowflakes, available from Southern Hum Press. Educated at Missouri Southern State and Wake Forest Universities, she lives in Winston-Salem, NC where she occasionally writes book reviews for various literary magazines.