Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

 

 

 

Variations, by Sudie Nostrand. March Street Press, 2010 Paperback, $9.00 139 pages
ISBN: 1-59661-144-8


Sudie Nostrand’s newest book of poems is divided into eleven sections, each concerning a relationship between a man and a woman, yet there is no obvious suggestion that the pair is the same throughout the collection. On the dedication page, Nostrand writes, “I dedicate this book to All of You,” asserting an ambiguous sentiment which correlates with the indefinite tone of her poetry. Yet because she draws her scenes with obscurity, the reader could easily assume that it is the same person in each section.

The sections of “Variations” are snapshots of a past shadowed by a vague recollection of a relationship, or relationships, ending in several ways before the subject of the poem dies without any mention of the cause. At the end of the tenth section the narrator laments:

 

I didn’t understand
death was between us.
I thought it was only
a woman, a vow.

 

The reader is unaware if the woman being mentioned is the narrator or possibly the wife of the subject. The death is equally vexing because in the poems leading up to the end, there is really no mention of death but there is always a constant theme of separation. The poem below appears just a few pages earlier, not specifically referring to death, but still foreshadowing the conclusion of the collection:

 

“When you come back
this summer, we’ll watch
the boats sail in the bay.”

There never was another day.
Your scarf was maroon.
The sun set early.
The train left too soon.

Somewhere the boats sail.



After reading her work I am still going back and forth between interpretations, even positing that the narrator views all of her relationships as one continuous engagement with an entropic closeness. The first poem in the collection reflects back to an uncertain past, stating that …”It could have been a distant/ lightning shattering a steady sky” that initially started the connection between the two. She is quiet, so “he dives into aimless discourse,” still leaving her in silence “…broken only by the sound/ of the rain dropping/ on the pavement.” Each poem, as well as each section is untitled; allowing the various pieces to bleed into each other as the reader glides through the text, consciously aware that a larger narrative is building.

A concept of variations of the same distracted, and displaced feeling of the narrator resonates throughout the text, adding a weight to each section as the reader approaches the end. During the earlier sections two lovers meet, seemingly fall in love, but there is a cold distance between the two that is never reconciled. Though there are still moments of intimate connection:

 

Sometimes when you turn
and slide your hands

into your pockets
smiling over what

we’ve just said
your open face

is like a garden
I’ve been walking in



Though this connection does not last forever. In the seventh section the two go to a house out in the country and the subject seems to enjoy himself, asserting that this is exactly where he wants to be, folding his arms with his foot on the porch rail. But later on, when he invites guests to the house he runs back and forth between people, whom he takes shots at later. The narrator sequesters herself in another room, explaining her separation “so that/ [she] wouldn’t be one of those guests/ [he] wished to get away from.” The two are sharing this home together, but are essentially strangers, no longer feeling the intimacy of earlier chapters though a strong surge remains, pulling the narrator back into a secure feeling:

 

Your light warms me like
a golden mass in Provence
on a Sunday afternoon in August
while in the pale streets of Oslo
children pull their sweaters tighter



The narrator’s companion is not without his flaws as he explains “Men are incapable/ of loving and staying/ with only one woman.” Thus a good case could be made that he may in fact be married. Even worse, his mysterious depth starts to fade as he contradicts his previous articulation of fact when staring at a painting of a girl alone in a diner, then pretentiously uttering “The pain of it.” The narrator begins to wonder, “Must all these men in you/ wear only one face” noticing the ever-multiplying layers of her companion’s personality.

“Variations” is a fascinating cerebral experience dashing between varying dimensions of the emotional cascade of a failing intimacy. Nostrand is scant and careful with her articulation of place, but firmly fixes the reader to a relatable depth concerning the narrator’s struggle to hold onto moments that always end too soon. There is emptiness in every stanza, but the space is not pedantic, it is free of judgment, simply a smooth rendering of memories of fragmented figures.

 

 


Andrew Kindiger is a senior at Truman State University and will receive his Bachelors of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing in December 2011. He currently hosts a poetry show on the radio with fellow senior Chris Drew, showcasing student and faculty work on the campus station. His poetry has been published in Windfall, Truman’s student literary magazine as well as the Monitor, the campus’s student run, independent newspaper. His research interests include Kurt Vonnegut, the evolution of modern philosophical thought, existentialist literature, and the bumbly adventures of the Giant Panda. He wishes to complete an MFA in creative writing, then take to a life of drifting.