Peter Gizzi’s A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me is a chapbook published by Ugly Duckling Presse that preceded its inclusion in a larger full-length text, The Outernationale, which was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2007. The chapbook itself consists of a long poem in five parts that pull apart, or put together, moments of possible panic, and where there is alarm, there is a need for preparation – to depict every moment as one under the speaker’s control. The speaker’s immediate use of conditionals with the anaphora “if” swiftly funnels us into scenes that bring vulnerability and about-to-break moments where life seemingly depends on the very acts that might hurt or end (us). By dropping readers into the beginning, middle, and of possibilities, “If today and today I am calling aloud / If I break into pieces of glitter on asphalt / bits of sun, the din / the tires whine on wet pavement / everything humming, (7)” the speaker clues us into what could go wrong as well as their pensive state of mind. This inviting pensiveness allows the reader in to a privacy that intrigues us to follow (what might be the ways in which we know we were loved).
Gizzi’s poetry is akin to the impact of a love poem/love story. It is the balance between ballad and epic, which speaks to his dual placement as a lyric and narrative poet. Gizzi’s poetry occupies both definitions, “The day unbraids its pretty light / and here I am to see it” and “If every afternoon gravity and fire / it’s like that here // undressed, unwound (11)”; Gizzi wields elements of song and sequence to chronicle changing perspective. The point of view zooms into the speaker’s wide world and then zooms out to pinpoint the speaker’s grounding, participation and ponderings. This, then, creates the braiding yet blurring balance of brevity and connectedness with just a few lines. Furthermore, Gizzi sheds light on understanding and searching the imagery of memories,
A branch and the scent of pine in summer
the bridge and the water in the creek
the stones and the sound of water
the creek and my body
when hair and water flowed over me (17)
These lines appear almost inductively, which contributes to the zooming out strategy, documenting the speaker’s optic movement as they examine the branch and then the scent from it, the bridge and then the water below it, as well as the stones hitting the water. The speaker begins these images and the reader creates meaning – the reader stays with the image. In staying, we linger, hover, and expect. This is the essence of lyricism – we look forward to what’s next coming.
Apparent in these lines is the outstanding use of light that reinforces introspection and reflexive investigation:
If the sun throbs like a drum
every five minutes
what can we do with this
the 100,000 years it takes a photon
to reach the sun
eight minutes to hit our eyes (12-13)
By juxtaposing the motion of the light with the ways in which it decelerates or accelerates as it meets the sun with planets and people, respectively, light then measures the difference of impact and even privilege. By asking, “what can we do with this,” the reader is implicated in how our collective humanity can be small but great. This question has the potential to leave us futile or in despair, yet it underscores the existential power we have within the bounds of our bodies. This begs the question: what makes a panic a panic? Perhaps the panic is hanging onto what one has while appreciating the details and citizenship of our lives. What we do is highly up to ourselves; Gizzi’s use of light incites us to take on the work of mystery when, really, we are engaging in an exacting, honest shift towards profundity that we can create.
A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me moves us to figure out for ourselves what is lit. Gizzi’s poetry is a path and a mainstay while the readers are the actors. The poetry is very much about the speaker’s memory, insight, and imagination just as it is about the reader’s.
A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse
Janice Sapigao is a Pinay poet, writer and educator born and raised in San Jose, CA. She earned her MFA in Critical Studies/Writing from CalArts. She co-founded an open mic in Los Angeles called the Sunday Jump. She currently lives in the Bay Area and teaches at Skyline College and San Jose City College. Please visit her website at janicewrites.com.