Landscape of The Wait by Jami Macarty
Published by Finishing Line Press
Submitted by Andrea Walker
In her succinct collection of poetry, Landscape of The Wait, poet Jami Macarty’s speaker’s nephew William lies critically injured, in a coma after a horrific automobile accident on the interstate. His family gathers near day after day waiting and hoping for his recovery. As months drag by and his condition does not improve, family members try to understand what’s happening to him as well as to themselves. In thirty-two pages of twenty-two poems, Macarty effectively takes the reader through the stages of grief and acceptance of an incomprehensible situation.
As the inhabitants of the poetry find themselves confused and in shock the overriding conflict exists in the helplessness of the speaker in the poems. It is fitting that what seems inaccessible in the poems at first comes strangely alive with the second and third reading. The opening poem “Fracture” describes the unfathomable reality of the occurrence. In this landscape of waiting with “no change,” the subconscious hovers between life and death perhaps heaven and earth, but the words are clear “truth can go different ways,” “three suns/ no change/ no change/ no change,” “is he leaning into healing or receding.” The structure of “Fracture” literally illustrates the concept of fractured with white space on the page, stanzas in columns, some readable across or down, fragments of thoughts and phrases, repetition that questions or emphasizes. “Fracture” paints the bleak landscape and sets the tone for the fragmented lives represented in the poetry.
In her attempt to make sense of the tragedy, the poet puts herself and the reader into the mind of the young man, imagining with keen perception what could be going on, for example, in the third poem “At the Time of the Accident”:
“airborne, he thought. hang-
ing on time’s lost line
he thought. near-sighted
horizon. no or-
falling, he thought. lain
in median grass.
lessness, he thought.”
She courageously endeavors to inhabit his mind and understand what humans can never know: the mind of another, especially of one who has suffered trauma.
Another aspect of the subconscious is the dream, which the poet uses effectively throughout the collection. Dreams are innately metaphorical, and the “leaky ship” of “First Dream Since” adeptly explains “the space too small … to contain their what’s happened,” speaking to both the overwhelming situation and deference given to William’s mother. Later, Macarty extends the metaphor of life as ship, in this case despite the muddy circumstances of being stranded “Aground,” with the hope of waking up, and “the sea will be a magic again.”
Coma, limbo, dream – all states of in-between – where the participants linger with unacceptable loss of control. Humans want to fix things. Opposing the inability to correct the situation lies the reality in which life goes on. A ventilator becomes the mother doing for the child what the mother cannot. The imagery of baking bread offers a fleeting moment of comfort, and “the leaves fall … whether we see them or not.” Always the contradiction of daily living and surreal exists. The situation demands balance alluding again to the landscape in-between. The fluctuation between concrete and abstract show the inhabitants of Macarty’s poems caught between worlds. Are variables concrete possibilities or abstract? The outcome of the equation must balance (or else it’s not an equation).
In “New Vocabulary” characters are entering an alien land and learning a foreign language – the Latin of medicine and diagnoses. However, William is not learning that language, nor is he part of what’s happening to him despite the writer’s repeated efforts to get inside his consciousness.
Dreams continue to mark phases of mourning versus acceptance. “Second Dream Since” represents denial or hope, picturing things the way they were before. Three months into the narrative, the mother withdraws from others perhaps because she’s experiencing his withdrawal from her. Imagery of map and lost key become metaphor for finding one’s way back, unlocking closed doors. A juxtaposition of abstract enchantment and fresh peaches hammers home the conflict between hope and despair.
“Winter Field” presents another bleak landscape with funereal subtleties, a hint at closure. The poetry attempts to restore order to chaos, to graphically and concretely explicate the accident in detail, the loose lug nuts and, it could have gone badly even with the seat belt, its causes and effects, along with the survivor’s effort to fix things. From the last poem in the collection, the “If Only What If” questions will always be with us:
“if only you hit snooze
what if mid-leaving you slow to feed your fish
if only one thousandth of a second
what if one billionth of a second
if only the car keys slipped between seats
what if the car’s battery needed a jump start”
Their relevancy is felt every day.
In her heartfelt work, Macarty offers a satisfactory resolution where there is no resolution. Her instinctual writing illustrates the coping mechanism of human spirit. By sharing her suffering with the reader, she has written a tribute to her nephew and offered empathy for the human condition.
Jami Macarty is the author of two chapbooks: LANDSCAPE OF THE WAIT (Finishing Line Press, 2017) and MIND OF SPRING, winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award (forthcoming fall 2017). She teaches contemporary poetry and creative writing at Simon Fraser University, edits the online poetry journal The Maynard, and writes Peerings & Hearings–Occasional Musings on Arts in the City of Glass, a blog series for Anomaly (FKA Drunken Boat). She is a recipient of financial support from Banff Centre and BC Arts Council, a Pushcart Prize nominee, a finalist for the 2017 Robert Kroetsch Award, and the winner of the 2016 Real Good Poem Prize. Her poems appear in 2016-17 issues of Blood Orange Review, CV2, EVENT, The Fiddlehead, Grain, Minola Review, Prism international, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, and Vallum: Contemporary Poetry. For more info: www.jamimacarty.com.