by Tim Etzkorn
One of the finest wedding stories I’ve heard is a tale of missed connections made. A man and a woman sat across from each other on Denver’s Light Rail. Both parties were struck by each other, but each of them neglected an interaction. The woman remained absorbed in her copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger; the man, weary from his work day, gave in to timidity and said nothing. That night, the man made a post on Craigslist’s “Missed Connections” titled, “To the girl reading Camus.”
This bride and groom got together but only after missing each other and existing in a space of wondering what could have been. There is, in my opinion, something natively poetic about missed connections: a line misspoken or an opportunity missed to achieve something deeper enters a space of communicative slippage. With the actual connection absent, one accesses a space where memories and imagination holds court. One forgets moments of friction in favor of occasions of synergy; the lack that absence brings overshadows the shortcomings that presence brought.
Poetry often relies on communicative slippage to make or to challenge meaning. Poetic work employs missed connections in syntax, grammar, or meter to create or defy signifiers: lines miss each other, carry over, break apart, run on, or stop unexpectedly; words are elided, forgotten, and deleted; meter skips a beat here or adds a beat there. Similarly, a missed connection in real life allows us to forget, misremember, or rewrite a detail here or there to create a tale that is more to our liking, and almost inevitably, sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes are all altered to create something more evocative and more synthetically powerful.
This appears to be the realm in which Travis Cebula and Sarah Suzor’s After the Fox exists — one of missed connections. Specifically, it is a lost opportunity between the voices of Morning and Nocturnal, two figures who necessarily must pass by each other eternally. In the context of After the Fox, the two have had some secret nighttime tryst, arguably aided by the bright night lights of modernity. The authors manage to reproduce and manipulate the discordant yet alluring nature of a missed connection in their epistolary poems that volley back and forth as Morning and Nocturnal constantly review memories and discuss what could be in the future – though palpably won’t come to pass.
The voices perpetually reflect on their relationship while failing to connect again. Hailing poem to poem, the two voices re-hash the past, articulate their dissatisfaction with the present, and allude to the impossibility of the future. Section one, “Atlantic,” situates the disintegrated relationship in the space of New York City. Morning and Nocturnal write back and forth with messages that are simultaneously provocative – particularly Morning – and evocative – particularly Nocturnal. Nocturnal reflects in a fashion that conflates a desire to return to their lost opportunity with a longing to forget about it:
I wish for that time I forgot to dread you.
[…] I wish I could pour
all that distilled amber onto autumn’s
grass, drop a match,
and burn a patch of the world back
again. A black circle inversed
to then. (23)
The utterance begins oblique: “I wish for that time I forgot / to dread you.” At that time Nocturnal enjoyed, embraced Morning’s presence; now the relationship is ruined, but despite this, the two voices can’t help but reminisce. Perhaps this is because these two can only have each other. They are bound together. Morning and Nocturnal must revolve around each other but constantly pass each other for all eternity.
Pages later, Morning replies:
And still you wonder,
what more did we need?
I’ll make you a list
while you sit there, writing down your wishes,
waiting for magic to burn a patch of the world back.
No, that was a good one. (25)
Morning challenges Nocturnal. It eliminates the “we” in favor of an “I,” claiming it had a list’s worth of wants in the relationship. Both voices murmur lines that mingles nostalgia and desire with deletion. Nocturnal states that it wants to “drop a match, / and burn a patch of the world back / again. A black circle inversed / to then.” Is Nocturnal looking to get rid of their past experience, to remove memories to darkness, or is it looking to return a circle of life, of memory to then? It is intentionally ambiguous, and Nocturnal likely desires both. Morning responds by mocking Nocturnal’s line: “I’ll make you a list / while you sit there, writing down your wishes, / waiting for magic to burn a patch of the world back.” Morning implies the ludicrous nature of this wish, but then concedes: “No, that was a good one.” Morning’s claim is vague. Readers do not know whether Morning is referring to the line or to the sentiment, and most likely, Morning is trying to mask it’s nostalgia for the opportunity that the two had.
Morning and Nocturnal’s connection is quite complicated though. They are stuck together, always passing each other, just barely. Cebula and Suzor’s Morning and Nocturnal seem to know this too, to know that they can’t properly have each other, yet they are bound to each other. The two voices close the work in a quip to quip interaction. Nocturnal says, “In other words, I figure I will keep on / going. In other words, so will you.” Morning concludes the work, two statements later:
I will always be all the same.
I know. I’ve seen the fox at dawn.
There, chasing its tail. I know.
There’s a chance to stop,
and there’s a chance to keep going. (100)
Perhaps chance isn’t the right word here. But then again, that feels deliberate. The two want to have chances; they want to have choices. In reality though, there’s no occasion to stop, only to keep going. The two press on. As long as the earth turns, Morning and Nocturnal will pursue each other. They will always want what they can’t have: natural togetherness. And they will always longingly remember their scarce connection: dawn, dusk, and the strange happenings allowed by the ever burning night lights of cities.
After The Fox is available from Black Lawrence Press.
Tim Etzkorn lives in Yangyang, a small fishing town in South Korea where he writes and teaches English.