An old school teacher I didn’t know well retired and died in a small town south of here. He was loved by his gradeschool students and many children. He had a loving wife who died later on. In sorting through the house a box of documents was discovered that his wife perhaps didn’t know about. Perhaps she did.
The box was filled with letters and poems the teacher wrote. The box revealed he had an earlier wife, married at the height of young love. She died suddenly while she was still beautiful. The poems he wrote were to her, each one a variation on loss, like messages on voicemail: Why do you not answer? When can I see you again? Outwardly, he was happily married to his second wife, who grew old with him and they raised a large, loving family, but privately, intimately, his first wife’s death was something he never got over.
Many of the gemlike character poems of Noelle Kocot’s beautiful fifth book, The Bigger World, are snapshots of people experiencing an event that marks them forever. They show deftly, sometimes mercilessly, how they stagger on, such as Tristan in “Favors from the Dead”: “When his partner/ Died, Tristan found himself being/ The lone survivor of an alien race/ Of two.” Or the speaker in “Fugue,” whose loneliness weighs increasingly on her:
Nothing seemed to matter
Anymore, not the past with
Its ax of granite nor the future
With its watery punctuation,
But the moment, yes the moment,
She was forced into it like
So much dough between
The fingers. “God bless us all,”
She said aloud to everyone and no one.
There is no other life.
Kocot’s own loss of her husband in 2004 may well inform the works in this collection, as they did in her previous book, Sunny Wednesday, published by Wave Books in April of 2009: “I forget and walk off the dying world without you/ And the memory of your laughter that keeps cawing at the void.”
Often in the poems of The Bigger World, this watershed event is simply a realization, as with “God Bless the Child,” the opening poem of the collection: “She and her son walked/ Silently on, not out of the flames/ Or anything, but just walked on.” There is a great sad sense of hope in these pieces that is tremendously moving, and the language is concise, simple, and direct, to the extent that one has to resist the temptation to include an entire poem rather than excerpts.
There is a fairytale-like quality to all of these poems, both in the sense that they follow a strange dream-logic, but also in their great compression of time. Entire lifespans unfold in the space of half a page (“Twilight fell/ Across the ages. A refrigerator/ Hummed.”). Life may extend beyond the grave to a Purgatory filled with IRS auditors, or to a void where one floats completely alone in a spacesuit. But in The Bigger World, these characters continue onward, not out of flames, perhaps not into them, but, because they have life, and the living must keep moving.
The Bigger World
by Noelle Kocot
Wave Books, 2011
88 pages, $16.00