Sunday, November 26, 2006



like wind loves a window by Andrea Baker
(Slope Editions, 2005)

[First published in TRAFFIC, Issue No. 2, Ed. Elizabeth Treadwell, 2006-2007]

The opening poem of Andrea Baker’s collection, like wind loves a window, asks us to locate ourselves “Where a still fan is even some form of weeping. And everything arrested must be sad.” Moments later we’re invited to “Watch the curious stand atop cars and watch the mischievous throw their rocks. Pray harder. But what is it to slip and what is it to yield?” These early images reveal subjects that are trapped on the threshold between action and stillness, in scenes that evoke a bizarre, voyeuristic empathy from the reader. Like most of the human, animal and inanimate subjects that surface throughout the book, these first few entities seem to be filled with a desperate longing to transcend their current state of existence—through movement, prayer, or connection to someone or something else. It is a desire
that seems accurately expressed by Baker’s phrase, “dilated with crave.”

The speaker’s close observation of the world shows her desire to understand the logic of human and nonhuman relationships and to experience intimacy in all its most fleeting, or confounding, forms. As readers, we learn to reinterpret the signpost verbs, “to slip” and “to yield,” as they refer to human perception—to the real that exists between the concrete world and our imagination, to our ability to slip in and out of love, reality and language. Just as she succeeds in blurring the line between humans, animals and machines—“Baskets of men wearing cardboard beaks float / below plane-wings pretending to be birds”—Baker’s verse keeps pace with the shape-shifting
subjects. She teaches us to hover in the page’s white space, anticipating the next line’s breath. Every image and every word in this wing-filled dream-world appears precarious:

the long wind necking
then a flicker of trigger
the mouth
part holster for the loaded

Despite the grace and sonic push of Baker’s lines, we sense waves of tension, a sort of expanding and contracting, as if the speaker’s breath mirrored the startling images that come in and out of her focus. As if “hanging from a rope / I am not even a bird / but when I approach trees / they turn to fire.” Baker’s language reflects a world in constant flux. The reader may attempt to decipher the relationships being depicted only to find that they are as mythical as they are familiar, and as volatile as they are comforting. In the first section named for a ghost-child, “gilda,” each line break births a new gesture, creating an increasingly fractured intimacy:

pull your face off
from the tattooed face
my broken egg eyes
put your tongue upon me
ghost out my sight

Like the other hybrid characters, gilda’s identity shifts, renaming occurs and each metamorphosis calls for a renegotiation of the relationship: “gilda you are a wind-sweep / you’re a hybrid monk / in a cloak / and a human head composed of leaves.”

Ever mindful of the reader’s ear and eye, Baker performs vast leaps from line to line without sounding staccato. And her vocabulary remains cyclical without becoming tiresome, so that “valley to be lifted through” becomes “valley to be licked through” and “spiral breath” becomes “spill of breath.” Before long, we’re in the thick of a wooly narrative, a soft-bodied sleep-talking. In this haunting yet seductive landscape, the speaker addresses a mysterious love—“you’re the skin of wind”—before uttering, “scarlet scarf, my head around me / river rising / fever / as if paper was sheep for whisper.” Her descriptions of intimacy continue to possess an undeniably raw, animal energy. In this translation of objects into lyric echoes, Baker’s words fold and unfold, and like a “roaming flock of wolves / specify and divide.” Like language, the human eye and human ‘logic’ of love appear both mathematically precise and dangerously flawed.

Not surprisingly, this naming and renaming of subjects periodically demands a new poetic structure. Throughout the book, Baker’s philosophical prose and ever-precise enjambment morph seamlessly into collaged text fragments, a three-act “script for gilda and her house,” and even line drawings—where a house hangs by an apparent thread and a stick-figure hovers, its eyes and mouth also replaced with dangling houses. Like Baker’s nimble verse, the suspended houses and avian references imply weight while embracing weightlessness. This paradoxical “logic” not only reveals an intimacy between bodies and air, but an intimacy defined by architecture and contained spaces. The crucial line, “what if I loved / like wind / loves a window,” suggests a love that is at times transparent, resistant yet continuous; it indicates a body that longs to pass through another body, to brush up against it and retreat.

What begins as meditative prose lines shifts to nostalgic and ghostly dream-sequences, and all inhabitants of this poetic world undergo transformations of mythical proportions. As we near the end, perhaps the only dimension of intimacy yet to be explored is that of quotidian life. The final section, entitled “body,” occupies an almost real-time domestic sphere and reveals a distinctly maternal voice. Here Baker writes, “my own children were born / from my legs but / into the palms / of another / from space comes form / to take / a witness.” Having witnessed Baker’s fearless breath and navigated the birth of a whole host of merging bodies, we exit the book with a heightened curiosity and we cannot help but look back with longing.


Steffi Drewes lives in Oakland, CA. She directed and performed her collaborative text project, "A Single Piece of Any Color," in The Poets' Theater Jamboree 2005 hosted by Small Press Traffic in San Francisco. Her poems have appeared in Beeswax Magazine.


At 10:01 AM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by Jennifer Bartlett in GR #1 at:


Post a Comment

<< Home