In PHILADELPHIA POETRY, Leonard Gontarek selects and introduces some of our city’s most praiseworthy poets. For January, Gontarek discusses the work of Charlotte Boulay.
Courtesy Bethany Legg
Charlotte Boulay keeps her finger close to the Refresh key, the original,
the new. She uses simple terms to explore complexity. From Aubade
Birds scritching in the eaves
… and morning enters without a by-your-leave
I’ll take it now to stop the kettle
the train driving through my sleep
From the scritching through greensounds to the train driving through
her sleep, this poem covers a lot of ground. There is an elegant handling
of language. Precise: scritching. Inventive: greensounds. Sleep and train.
Doesn’t that depict the motion, the drama of sleep? Startling, wonderful.
At Night You’re Not Lonely
although the Morse tap of rain on the roof
is as indecipherable
as the staccato of a fly at the sill.
It’s late, and the radio rustles no new news:
abandoned horses roam the barren plains.
Something slips into the darkness –
the smell of beeswax, the imagining of sun
or a palm stroking your back, still hours until dawn.
There’s a hollowness even in turning the pillow
for the cool on your cheek, the migration a forced march
into another country.
Charlotte Boulay works as a writer at the Franklin Institute, the science museum
and center in Philadelphia. Her first book, Foxes on the Trampoline (if this sounds
like the title of a YouTube video, it should, because that is what it is) was a Poets
& Writers magazine top-ten debut poetry book of 2014. Water is everywhere in
this book, and flight. Immediately in the first poem, she is diving into a pond.
There are night birds. The poem concludes with a musician flipping his violin in
the air and catching it. In Dear Sailor, the final poem of part two, the speaker asks
of the figures moving underwater: Is it a trick of the light? Rejoice, is the reply.
A poem, Calenture, notes in its epigraph from the Oxford English Dictionary: A
disease incident to sailors in the tropics, characterized by delirium in which the
patient, it is said, fancies the sea to be green fields, and desires to leap into it.
Here is Luminary:
I dreamt a sailor. I dreamt
a sea so blue it stretched the corners
of my sight. Each day the boat, the wind,
the water. Each night the voice:
my little zephr we are
whistling in the dark.
I followed it. I left my lover
behind. This is not an allegory,
it’s an allegation.
Sing me a shanty, sing me
a lullaby. To forget you
I invented another.
Travel and flight and the maps of things are on this poet’s mind, as well as
how we measure passage, how we measure distance and closeness. In Migration Charlotte Boulay is weathered and ready to follow… as long as it takes, what she sees in her body’s memory looks like the shadow of a ship. In Dear Sailor there is clinging to the rudder where a castaway will phosphoresce, where feet leave the deck cleanly with eyes on what’s belowEven in Field there are startling currents and the shadow of the boat tracks itself like a hunter.
Migration is a good approximation of the movement of a Charlotte Boulay
poem. The move from one location and settling in another. The change of
position of atoms. The seasonal movement of animals. A highway of birds
in the sky… landing nowhere… desire splintering.
The most birds I’ve ever seen.
the longest? Superlatives
are only sometimes useful. A sea of open beaks
and wing. Flip the quick one, melt the meticulous.
It’s sort of a trick that color,
that sun-in-a-cup, and the rush
has no signature. How can we measure
the velocity, the distance from one trestle to another –
leaving the ground is different. Banking
and rising all together, there’s no barre
at which to stand; the sandbank shifts underwater
as the clouds move correspondingly above.
Watch the birds: the sky parts and remakes itself
almost cruelly while we wait
for the next instruction:
now dance now droop now rest.
There are poems that are journeys, there are poems that are reports from journeys.
There are poems that attempt the difficult, maybe impossible: letters to the one
voyaging – these are the poems of Charlotte Boulay. Migration is moving away, it is, at the same time, a moving towards and coming together. In her search through signs and codes and correspondence, through relationships and transactions with one another, in these maps, this is what she finds.
The lock on the door
is more than one hundred years old
and it almost got stuck the other day.
Someone used to bake bread in the oven
and lined shelves with gleaming preserves
and sweat every summer putting up
tomatoes, corn relish
and beans. You can see the ghosts
of footsteps in the cement
in the cellar, the depressions holding themselves
steady and each spring filling with water
as it seeps through the clay.
Someone fitted the tongue-and-groove
porch ceiling, then lay on his back
afterward with a cold bottle, admiring
his work. On the phone, my mother
says it’s time to get a new mattress.
She can see the outlines of my father’s body,
and hers, lying next to each other
every time she changes the sheets.
Charlotte Boulay is a seasoned, wise soul.
Leonard Gontarek is the author of five books of poems, including, Déjà Vu Diner and He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Verse, Poetry Northwest and The Best American Poetry, among others. He is host of the Green Line Café Reading and Interview Series and conducts poetry workshops throughout the Philadelphia area.
Poems copyright © by Charlotte Boulay. Used by permission
of the author and ecco books, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.