Museum of Accidents
by Rachel Zucker
Wave Books 2009
A Review by Marjorie Tesser
Rachel Zucker’s work explores her individual consciousness in dispassionate, reporter-like detail; the others who people her poems (family, colleagues, fellow- victims of a health situation) are presented more sketchily. Her tone is conversational; you can almost picture her sitting across from you in a coffee house (not Starbucks, the indie one around the corner), balancing a baby on her lap while he bulldozes a corn muffin into crumbs which shower unheeded to the floor as she expounds over her green tea soy latte, never letting you get in anything but an occasional nod. But nod you do because she’s true to her poetic credo of ungilded candor, hyper-accurate reportage aimed at nothing less than unmasking the basics of our human condition, our relationship with the universe.
The book begins, in “The Day I Lost My DÃ©jÃ Vu,” with the tightly-focused world of the new mother: “the box I live in is like this today. The box I live in. Today: like this. “). As the book progresses the poems open out, including more and more of the outside world and other people. What had seemed like self-absorption is actually heightened sensitivity to the tenuousness of life and fortunes, one person’s particulars aimed at articulating revelation on a species-wide scale, the surprisingly short hop to the general from the well-observed and analyzed specific. This culminates in “More Accidents,” a long poem that considers the accidents, happy and tragic, of our existence.
In “Welcome to the Blighted Ovum Support Group,” the story spirals, in terms of time, pace and focus, an effect that is almost cinematic. As the poet recounts and considers personal tragedy, the tale unfolds from diverse vantage points including the nowhere-lands of operating room and a cyberspace support group. Zucker’s form follows function; her lines string out and out across the page like ropes someone is almost reaching the end of, then draw in, contract. Zucker starts with gallows humor and ends up with a series of punch lines; the blighted ovum and the whole series of unfortunate events, becomes, in the end, like any human tragedy, the universe’s joke.
Perhaps one of the most pleasurable poems comes at the end of the work, “The Death of Everything, Even New York City,” in which the poet questions the power of words, of poetry, to capture anything as wily and uncontained as life.
Even if there are Starlings, well, fuck that.
And Blackbird? sorry. Mockingbird? nope. Robin,
Bluebird, Warbler, Mourning Dove–
you’re kidding, right? Even the Coot, Vulture, Cowbird,
House Finch–the whole bird world is used up.
Even babies and lovers and language–might as well forget
flowers. The most contaminated flower in the world is too
beautiful, the worst marriage too romantic, the most malicious
baby too acutely precious and untrustworthy.
But she disproves her own thesis. The poem ends on a dual note of apocalypse and love, a juxtaposition that, in the hands of this very skillful poet, proves most satisfying.