“Walter Pater wrote that all art aspires to the condition of music. The obvious reason [ . . . ] would be that, in music, form and substance cannot be torn asunder.”*
In “hAve You Been Married, the Sister asK” by Sarah Sarai, Tolkien’s most fascinating character is invoked like a muse in the last stanza: “no meaning in a ring (O! Smêagol) Til / boom-boomed in fire soul-scalding” (lines 13-14). Is the poet here actually calling out to the former incarnation of Gollum to guide her in her contemplation of the significance of a ring (of power or matrimony) or is she merely acknowledging the absence of significance by invoking absent presence—the former incarnation of the creature destroyed by the ring, the original being before being driven to madness and grotesquery consumed by greed and hunger? As the original being Smêagol has the more legitimate claim to his real estate: he is Alpha Beta original—“I were chosen I know to asignify aboriginal / rage Ascribed esoteric as waltztime frenzy” (1-2 emphasis added)—Gollum his colonizer; the A-B-original is lost, forgotten, but always more significant as signifier (asignifying) the land which he inhabits. This land is of course Middle Earth, Tolkien’s translation of the Old English middengeard—akin to the Norse Midgard—literally the middle yard, the yard in the middle of heaven and hell (Asgard and Hel), where men dwell (and presumably women).
In The Future Is Happy, Sarai’s first collection published by BlazeVOX [books] last year, “hAve You Been Married, the Sister asK”—which first appeared in Other Rooms in 2008—occupies a place between two poems which can be read as Heaven and Hell: “The Rebirth Live” and “Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina in Heaven” nonrespectively. In the latter, the poet imagines a Heaven populated by “friends” the likes of which would make any lover of literature happy: in addition to “Emma and Anna / smil[ing] at the fiction of their lives” (7-8) there’s “Holden Caufield. Humbert Humbert. / Nora. Medea. Jane Eyre” (15-17) and “Gregor Samsa wriggl[ing], vamping” (19). What poet wouldn’t want to go to a Heaven like that? “Think: conversational Mecca” (18), except how would one maintain a conversation with the likes of Humbert Humbert and Holden Caufield? Their conversation is so one-sided there would be no opportunity to speak to them, to tell Humbert what an ass he is, or Holden to stop being a whiny emo punk. Jane would annoy me—I’d much rather talk to the madwoman in the attic—and Gregor, well, I used to kill cockroaches for a living, so we might have a hard time finding common ground. I admit I don’t know the rest well enough to comment on them, but for that very reason I can’t imagine them in my heaven.
Here are the inhabitants of my conversational paradise: Dejah ‘Deety’ Thoris Carter, nee Burroughs; Precious Jones; Janey Smith; Mina Harker; Lois Lane. That’s what heaven is: a transition of your self through a representation of shared imaginations—“We are morphed”(20), and becoming our own cockroaches; perhaps this is why the future is happy, but in hell it’s a loss of self, a loss such as only comes through breaking away from the restrictions of language—restrictions of meaning, intended and inferred. It’s all interpretation.
Music may be that breaking away. In “The Rebirth Live” Sarai reflects on being “young when communication was initiated” (1): “God is in the funk the beat the blues” (12). But now in her “hellhole / solitude-encrusted sweat box of a New York City / cell qua apartment” (25-27) she hears “seven musicians in L.A.” (28), and that music is what takes her out of hell. No need for meanings, intended or inferred, for music is that perfect blend of form and substance, and in “The Rebirth Live” it comes in the form of a “compact miracle disk” (27) that reminds the I of the poem of birth, and rebirth, not an interpretation but an experience—a miraculous one that transcends interpretation. From hell we escape through music; in heaven we find ourselves in imaginary others, but on this Earth, in the Middle Yard, we are only the asignification of aboriginality.
O Smêagol! Why will we not choose you to be in our heaven? What music do you hear under the Misty Mountains? Do you know what’s in my pocket?
*Borges, Jorge Luis. This Craft of Verse: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1967-1968. Harvard University Press, 2000. pg.77
read “hAve You Been Married, the Sister asK” in Other Rooms