On Kathleen Graber’s “Postscript from the Heterochronic-Archipelagic Now”

from Kathleen Graber, The River Twice

In another life, I once held a palm-sized chip of driftwood
shipworms had laced in just this way. I can still peer through it

in my mind, but I cannot raise it up, here, today, in this quiet light.
Yet, sometimes it seems as though I have only just now set it down,

beside the thin gold bangle my mother gave me, on a little table,
beside the iron bed in which I used to sleep.
                                                                                Yesterday a student said,
I do not know what you mean when you say image. My stories,
she insisted, are only made of words.

In “Postscript from the Heterochronic-Archipelagic Now” readers follow Graber’s mind through long winding lines of associative connections. Graber moves easily from personal reflection and lived experience to the socio-political (a child behind a chain-link fence grasping—“not a mother’s hem / but the silver corner of a Mylar rescue sheet”).

In the excerpt above, Graber’s craft moves the reader’s eye from the specificity of a driftwood chip to the poignancy of a childhood memory, images that grow even larger when she juxtaposes them against a student’s befuddlement. What is an image?

Cover image of The River Twice

The poem answers the question. Images—shaped with concrete detail and sense memory—anchor time and enable our imaginations to transform lived experience. But the poem also shows that images are not reliable, they are not events that we control, though they often connect to and trigger other images. Graber’s movement from the worm-riddled driftwood, which like memory is no longer living or rooted, but a broken fragment with parts missing and eaten away, to a childhood memory of valued belongings, the maternal love, and the safety of home gives another lesson in making images. Poetic images are stronger when they are not static. The driftwood chip allows Graber’s moves through time. But the image of the chip changes from a miscellaneous natural object riddled with shipworms to a possession that a child keeps safe. But of course, the poem’s childhood is only a set of images: memory: emotional driftwood. Time is a shipworm.

The difference between a detail and an image, Franz Wright writes, is resonance: images evoke or suggest memories or feelings and other images. They reverberate.

Kathleen Graber, The River Twice. Princeton University Press, 2019

JNH