Kristen Lang: 'SkinNotes'
Publication Date: June 2017
‘Lyric poetry is the lightly orchestrated voice of true feeling. Its shape and its language persuade us, as readers, that soul or spirit has become fully incorporate. In Kristen Lang’s own words, again and again “we are all / this embrace”: all in her gathered moment of love or of loss. She has written of our inevitable transience, “the angels are not ourselves”, but these sure-footed poems locate personal apprehension in a physically delicate, common world. Readers will surely delight in the subtle, varied command of SkinNotes.’
‘Hearing these poems sing off the page is like listening to Pablo Casals play cello. Their music goes deep: resonating chest, bone, heart, nerve and brain. Afterwards you feel as if you’ve been tenderly bathed. Renewed, soothed, enlivened – freshly alert to the tender nuance and beauty of the world.’
Kristen Lang’s deftly-crafted poetry collection, SkinNotes, scrawls its emotive verse across the skin of the self. It is not indelible ink and it would not matter if it were, as the body is transient just as the words we wield, weave, and write exist only for a brief time.
Read more of Alison Clifton's review of SkinNotes at StylusLit
Expecting you everywhere. Like dye.
And finding you dense in me, cupped
in this hollow above my heart you have shaped
with the patterns of your living, the movement
of your lungs echoing below my collarbones
where for a while you helped me breathe.
You are still here in the inhale. You do not
leave me. And I cannot lose you. Layers of you.
Like weathered stone. And in the space of our join,
memories I cannot have – nudging against me,
this fragment of the child in you, the young
woman, the lover and the loved, and in turn,
the fine trace of your mother, housed
as you are housed in the folds of the word
“daughter”. You are here. Here, in this
breath mark, settling as the part of me
you will always own.
In the dark between our palms,
our two selves –
this bridge of touch
over time, as wide
as I am old – holding
There is a wooden post inside the cello –
the luthier is tinkering. If it slips, the body cannot hum
and the strings, thin and strange, hold only the shadow
of a melody. I tell him the ribs have tightened. I touch
the sternum – here, I say. He taps the chest – sing, he says,
fingers nudging the heart.
How the angels are not ourselves.
We dress them. We change
the angle of their wings, the whiteness
of their frocks, but whether they move in us
or refuse to move…
It is possible they are here
and we do not notice. There is a horse
in the field beside our house. The light is low
and our palms, when we walk to meet her,
when we touch her, hover on the amber lustre
of her shoulders. She sways under the warmth of us,
her large eyes sifting through the mesh
of the day – our shadows, our footfalls, the small
breeze, the temperature,
the closeness of darkness…
In the space of us, in the space
around us, in the movement we make,
each moment of it new, we are hopeful.
Much, though, is familiar. Are they here? The presence
or absence of angels – how their songs
dissipate in the slanting gaze of our search and we cannot
guess what we would know of them.
The horse pushes the softness of her nose
into our hips and hands
for the carrot we cannot offer and did not
think to bring to her, then moves away. Her eyes
barely return to us and the breeze
roughens on our cheeks, on our necks…
we want to believe
in the slight, mystical arrival
of their wings, the light
broadening in our skins. Even now
there is no-one
to refuse to say if it is we
they have come for.
sank three small holes
into the man’s body, the first
into the apex of his skull,
the second, like the third,
into the soft arches
of his soles. And with its lips
pressed into his hair, it pushed
with the breath of its great lungs
until he was hollow,
merely a shell. And to find
what remains in the glasspaper
husk of himself
you must step into the emptiness.
The torn threads of his heart blow as seeds
on the brittle edge
of his horizon. He flies
a mirage of his own shadow.
paints graffiti on the dust
of his bones, red
in the blue of his weeping.