An epigraph from Paul Celan opens the text (“distance,/O you/hand of glances”), which seems fitting—to call upon a great prose poem crafter to begin a very present-day ramble in the form. These are poems in prose, but they are not bound by a prescription of tone; they work the spectrum, often sounding the subtler notes: frustration, amusement, detachment that flirts with compassion. These are the words of a practitioner schooled in old magic, by-gone wisdoms, but who can see the philosophy waiting in the ready head of a pez dispenser:
These are the future’s archaeological exhibits, the glass cases of miniature laughing toilets, of lamps that love applause […] Our rubies, our scepters, our fine-boned combs.
(“Ancient Pez Cat, c. 2003 C.E.”)
The cover of the book is itself a kind of blueprint to the contents. Yes, don’t judge a book by—but perhaps benefit from—its cover. Egypt, literally figured from space is a molten zag of the credible melded to the incredible. Blistering into an ocean, pulsing into a continent,
a Nile river delta, its albedo backscatter of birds from the distant photosatellite…. Whatever the landscape is we want its memory, much longer than ours, never leaving its body”
(“Egypt from Space 1”)
Goldberg has complete control of the poetic camera lens, taking from the cosmic long-shot (literally or metaphysically) and then being able to pull in for the minute detail—
“the shadow in the sternal mastoid and the dot of light near the center of each eye”
(“Art and Life”).
And she sounds good doing it. The metaphor of the camera lens is not enough for this book; these poems have nose, body, mouthfeel. It is a sensual experience to read most of them aloud. Take a line from “Boywatching with Lydia” as a moment of proof:
they peel back into their white and brown bodies, beautiful and sequential as time-lapse lilies.
This book does not make me think of theory. This book makes me think of whether this year’s Beaujolais will be any good. But, there are those who have articulated what it is I am feeling before I’ve felt it, and some of them have theorized about this very thing. I must admit I am reminded of another poet’s claims for poetry and Donald Hall’s 1973 Essay “Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird”:
Whatever else we may say of a poem we admire, it exists as a sensual body. It is beautiful and pleasant, manifest content aside, like a worn stone that is good to touch, or like a shape of flowers arranged or accidental. This sensual body reaches us through our mouths, which are warm in the love of vowels held together, and in the muscles of our legs which as in dance tap the motion and pause of linear and syntactic structure.
Each of the book’s four sections has at least one red car racing through or idling in it. “Red Car 1” through “Red Car VI,” but there are also slashes of red like lipstick on a well-tended mouth throughout—that shock of meticulous passion a “glow like perfect alibi” (“Red Monsoon”). This is a sexy book at the same time it makes room for grief, for Lao Tso, for memory and not just moment. The first poem of the first section “I Wish I Were Mexico” articulates what it means to be haunted—by the past, by a family member, by a fragrance. This collection is THAT kind of book. You read it, get on with your life, and think you’ve left behind. But it won’t let you go. Won’t. The letting will not happen. This book will get you when you’ve cast off your shackles:
He came back as a seaside town. He came back as the great parlor of fragrance thrown open by coconut.
It is a book that will hit you where it hurts, and you might like it. You’ll certainly be able to detect the sonic beauty in the attack.
Egypt From Space is available from Oberlin College Press
Elizabyth A. Hiscox is the author of the chapbook Inventory from a One-Hour Room. She currently serves as Poetry Editor for Third Coast at Western Michigan University where she has also served as Layout Editor for New Issues Poetry & Prose. Her poems appear in DMQ Review, The Fiddlehead, Gargoyle, Georgetown Review, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Solo Novo, and elsewhere.