… on a cold day.

The link is to Christine Gosnay’s erotic poem, “Strangers,” which seems to UD a nice antidote to the current freezing conditions in her world. Not that things aren’t freezing in Gosnay’s poem; they are. But they’re also jazz-hot. The poem’s a surrealistic sexual reverie, and it runs hot and cold. Let’s eavesdrop.

The title suggests that the object of her reverie will be a stranger with whom she had sex; or the title might be suggesting that whatever the degree of knowledge and intimacy, we are always sexual (and other kinds of) strangers to one another. As in the Philip Larkin poem:

Talking In Bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

Gosnay finds very strange words indeed as her speaker evokes for herself, in memory, in reverie, a sexual encounter. Here goes.

Tremendous orange things are happening somewhere.
I lay a wooden stick for stirring on the white note
on the desk. I lay a stain on the clean note.

Somewhere things are happening. Marvelous orange
and purple things. Flooding rivers at dusk, wheels threading
roads in the desert. Strangers. Strangers. Sea.

Makes no linguistic sense; the first sentence calls to mind Chomsky’s famous Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. OTOH, the emotional feel of that jumbled sentiment might also call to mind the wonderful first scene in the film Amélie, where the child-like, fantasizing title character suddenly vividly imagines all the exciting sex that must be going on in various places in Paris at that instant. Tremendous vivid and hot (orange) things are happening somewhere; and the images in this poem (flooding rivers at dusk…) leave little doubt that it means to evoke orgasmic release.

The poem’s speaker sits at a desk with a coffee stirrer, and when she puts it down on a clean sheet of paper she leaves a stain. This trivial domestic moment will broaden symbolically as the poem proceeds; it will become an icon of a white-sheeted bed on which a woman leaves a post-sex stain. It will remind the speaker of the sexual encounter that will produce her reverie.

Somewhere you are lying in a white bed. The clock
on your thigh is ticking. Somewhere a human form
is being lifted from the ground.

Somewhere, yes, and I am counting. The clean note
with its numbers has changed. I will remember.
You are a location, with a bed.

Now she addresses her stranger/lover directly; or perhaps she addresses herself. In any case, the simple point here seems to be that she found this sex both memorable and transformative: She has been lifted by lust into a new life – the once “clean” note on which her life was written has changed, “staining” her (not in a pejorative sense) forever. She now knows herself through that sexual interaction: You are a location, with a bed.

The road ends somewhere in the flooding river
at dusk. Why here, strangers. A cartwheel in the stow hold
of a ship. A stranger who wheels it on the ice.

Somewhere the ship has frozen. The ship has frozen
in the ice. A frozen form. The ship cannot be lifted
from the purple sky at dusk.

She’s revolving and revisiting her images now – river, road, strangers, wheel, dusk – all with the intent, I think, to suggest the following. Sex can be what Kafka says certain books can be: ‘the axe for the frozen sea within us.’ Sex can set rivers flooding, can break through the ice of the isolated self, and, weirdly, that can even happen – especially happen? – between strangers.

Stain in the somewhere. You are lying in a white bed.
Why here is the river. On the thigh. Remember
what we did with clocks. Orange and purple.

Lovely trees in the frozen sky. Holding somewhere and threading
thighs. Strangers. I lay a stain on the white bed.
Remembering what tremendous purple things we did.

Stain in the somewhere; holding somewhere. It’s wonderful the way she sustains the vague surrealism that authentically conveys the dusky fuzzy encounter and its dusky fuzzy remembrance. Looking up from that flooded bed, she now remembers, she noticed the lovely untransformed frozen world framing her transformation.

The mind ends every thing stirring. Somewhere the ship
is being lifted from the desert. Marvelous. You will change
from the river location to the sea.

Somewhere, things are happening. You are lying in the white bed
beside the sea with coffee. I am lying in the white bed.
Tremendous strangers. Blind roads in the sea.

There are many ways to read the first sentence, but in keeping with the rather simple reading I want to do: Everything in me was so excitedly stirred that I blessedly lost – temporarily, wonderfully – the very capacity for thought. Truly you lifted me from the desert of the self – selfishness, self-awareness, self-consciousness… I have gone from river to sea; from self to world. Three times she writes tremendous; twice she writes marvelous. This liberation from the stow hold of a frozen self, this being wheeled out into bliss, is too massively, enigmatically stupendous for words, so I’ll content myself with somewhere, and with vague indicators of immensity: tremendous, marvelous.

There are ways out of the frozen self! But the roads are “blind” – which is what this inchoate but symbolically controlled poem very nicely conveys. (Recall the first phrase of Joyce’s story, “Araby”: North Richmond Street, being blind...) Even at moments of intensest liberation, we don’t know where we’re going – we barely know where we are – and the best we can do is ruminate on liberating events. This poem is the trace of that rumination.

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