The Devastation by Melissa Buzzeo
Nightboat Books, 2016
How does one write a review from an impulse that resists context? Where the fabric of explanation has a hole. To touch the book. To return it to the place where I slip away. In the opening lines of Melissa Buzzeo’s The Devastation, she offers us an introduction that speaks more eloquently to her work than I could ever write. She writes, “Turn the pages of my book/ Induce gravity/ And speech.” Reading from some place I am not used to reading from, having lost my face between myself and another, the book evokes my feelings of anonymity. I am caught quivering at the point where book meets reader, and relishing this feeling of lack the book allows me to keep bringing forth.
In The Devastation, we are plunged beneath the sea. Buzzeo writes,
The many words for the sea
The ink on your hands
What I can’t remember, recall, deliver
And the wait in our faces
The swallowed back body
Pure fire water unable to withstand sight
What cannot be recalled. Memnēmai in Ancient Greek means “total recall”. To remember by way of song for oneself or for others. What is this song? What is this swallowing of a whole body? A disruption enters through an uncertain pronoun. Is this memory now a body, a new pronoun? In The Devastation it feels like there are no pro-nouns, only transitions, and states of objection. And each transition hurt by the light of a sun without memory.
The translation buried
And the transition brought to light
After a feminist reading group we both attended Melissa told me that I should read her book. After the group I had been shaken by words, my own and others, opened and intruded into by an undead/archaic past. She listened to me as we moved toward Union Square. She said that she had felt different after writing her book. This book.
How long it took me to climb out of this body
What is that—difference? To feel different. When one has fallen into the ocean or the desert-either way lost in time, particles of space which swallow and disappear-who is the I that wonders this question before the difference has taken place? When I started reading I found myself answered and unanswered, line-by-line, and I cried while this happened. It isn’t ever the answer one wants, but the making of the difference of the answer itself, the matter of distance and the reply—a continuity of being.
And this is my way of staying connected to you outside this singular length.
My body or both our bodies.
To want and to want and to want
And to have to recourse to want
In the place of no roots
To complete exhaustion
Between the two notebooks…
As an epigraph to The Devastation, Jean-Luc Godard: “A tracking shot is a moral act.” Melissa Buzzeo says that, in the beginning of writing this book she wanted to be with other books that “enacted healing”—what she found was that “this can not be done statically but only ecstatically.” The tracking shot is a pact between auteur and viewer, between text and other. The tracking shot is not a metaphor. If it is a moral act it is only so within the connection of representation, as listening. Morality as listening. Listening as the revelation of duration. This is the passage, the across, that breaks open, and that connects.
If it were not so separate if something had been saved I would give you a
piece of The Devastation now, here. Not like a text, like an object.
I would break it off.
I told Melissa that this review would be personal—broken—what I must have meant is ecstatic.
The coming undone of the boundary
And then a small path
And then stone by stone
You follow the stones out of the unbearable stones
The book does not just put a small stone in the mouth. Or count stones in a pocket. It continues to fall up from the depths of the ocean.
The third part of The Devastation is called Sky.
Your want was big…
You punctured the air
You would not drain being
It was expensive.
You slept on the floor
You wove your pockets into memory,
You stayed on the floor
The floor did not fit
In the air where culture is—all the way up on the floor. I’ve crawled there, but this statement doesn’t fit. “And IIIIIIIII//There is no heart that beats like that.” None of it fits, least of all language. My face taken back from my face. Put in a mirror. Time taken back from time. Pronoun from heart. Am I running out of time to say what I mean?
You followed what was foreign to you.
You held the non book to your chest.
Your wet and blue black book. But it is empty too gold as well.
And the ocean mirrors just coldness
To say this, I grow another set of teeth in my mouth. To know to say this, reminds me of walking deer trails as a child. Something so narrow, alive with its difference, going to no home, but through the forest forever. Now, I can’t walk: “You have no legs you have no legs this is a metaphor.” Now the forest, too, becomes different.
You sleep in your basin
You arrest the holes
The fountain restarts.
Is it that the boundedness of the lake invokes the greater view of the ocean? That my watch tells me I’ve run minorly against infinite time? Here—out of words, yes. How much slower I have to move here. How I find my self suddenly brought to sense again. How I am stealing time from infinite time. What might be the limit of my sentence. Am I piling things or breaking things these days? I wonder this mostly in a narrow way.
In Writing the Disaster, Blanchot: “It is upon losing what we have to say that we speak—upon an imminent and immemorial disaster… as we say nothing except insofar as we can convey in advance that we take it back… not so as finally to say nothing, but so that speaking might not stop at the word…”
I had an idea of making the book like that all this misreading from start to finish and the empty question inside.
In another section of The Devastation, Basin, I imagine a crawling into… finding a space to be a body. To carry the empty space in my body, unfilled. To find such a place not in escape, but beyond answer: is there a word for the hollow space in a question mark? Or without the (sickening) containment of names. Stuff that piles into a name as it matters and matters.
Your body made of rocks
Your body made of chemicals
A salvage, marked
Would it be a kindness to be made of lighter stuff?
The theater empty the sun undone.
The gutter empty, the urns undone. Such powder.
Alone in the street reaching for this.
I am afraid to go backwards like this. Afraid isn’t the right word, but still, I’m afraid of my desire to review. Stealing infinite time. Risking falling together and at my boundaries: the dust of many others, many other texts in the air.
I hung you. You dazzled me. You ate this star. There were star parts in your lungs, shards of share and light.
Image where you lay across blank page. The park deserted. The park restrung. A trust in bottle and finishing blindly. I did kiss that tree.
Melissa Buzzeo says, Really this book is about meaning: organic and inseparable from life.
I lit a match
I found a tree
You were not there.
I did not know for a long time that sēma to the Ancient Greeks means both “sign” and “tomb.” Or that a white burial mound containing the bones of a hero (make it heroine) could be placed at a headland. I did not know that it might be encircled by a set of unshedding trees, and around that a garden of the natural seasons could grow. What did I even know?
I did not know that the keeper of this garden learned from that dead hero, amorously, as he tended this sacred precinct—cut those vines and grew them. “Organic and inseparable from life.” “But only ecstatically.” That this keeper could be sought out by those desiring knowledge—desire as water. “I wanted this.”
In the lightness of the page, erotic
Plunged between the covers
Loose between the covers
And rocking to sleep
On somebody else’s boat
In somebody else’s sleep.
What limitation does difference imitate?
In the unearthed garden the open time
And at first to encounter the sea.
Jessica O. Marsh is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Action Yes, The Fanzine, Flying Object Press, Lana Turner, Patient Presses, Prelude, Hot Metal Bridge and Vinyl Poetry. She lives in the Hudson Valley.