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In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché is a tapestry of human history that traverses time and place, and it calls upon the reader to take in the totality of history. This includes the moment of now, as well as all the past moments that make up the “now” and the world as it is and how it was envisioned. Forché has created a collection that looks back on the totality of moments so that we can see everything at once.

From “Water Crisis” to “Report from an Island,” her poems look at the crises humanity faces, losses of clean water, pollution of our seas by plastic, and those who are forced to live in trash piles. “This work is slow,” the narrator of “Report from an Island” says. Time always seems to move slowly and progress can be even slower.

From real-world issues, these poems spin the folklore of individuals. The stories of who we are or were can be lost to the ravages of time. In “The Lost Suitcase,” Forché says, “Here are your books, as if they were burning./Be near now, and wake to tell me who you were.//” Many of her poems build these stories from ash and memory. We walk the streets of a city under siege: “Turning the pages of the book you have lent me of your wounded city,/reading the braille on its walls, walking beneath ghost chestnuts/past fires that turn the bullet-shattered windows bronze,/”

One of my favorite poems is a tribute to the late Larry Heinemann, author of Paco’s Story, (I still miss our FB conversations) and his fellow veterans, Kevin Bowen, Bruce Weigl, Nguyen Ba Chung, “Hue: From a Notebook,” which pays tribute to the past, their present, and their ghosts.

We went down the Perfume River by dragon boat
as far as the pagoda of the three golden Buddhas.

Pray here. You can ask for happiness.
We light joss sticks, send votives downriver in paper sacks,

then have trouble disembarking from the boat.
Our bodies disembark, but our souls remain.

A thousand lanterns drift, a notebook opens in the dark
to a page where moonlight makes a sound.

These soldiers are decades from war now:
pewter-haired, steel haired, a moon caught in plumeria.

We are like the clouds that pass and pass.
What does it matter then if we are not the same as clouds?

There was then the whir of stork wings, and bicycle chains ringing.
It is still now the way the air is still just before the mine explodes.

Once we fired at each other. Now we pass silence back and forth.
On the ten thousand graves, we lay chrysanthemum.

Forché’s poems are powerful in the silent and calm voice she uses to speak about the “lateness” of the world. When we come to the end of a life, who hears those memories, those echoes of the past? Is it in the breeze? Is it in the smell of the flowers? Is it in the books and stories we tell? In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché is our tapestry, and it grows larger each day.

RATING: Quatrain