THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT
Throughout this book, the
us with unexpected phrases
as startling as a sharp thunderbolt in the middle of a sunny afternoon.
Margot Schilpp's first book, The
World's Last Night, is divided into three parts. In the first,
poet questions many things with the curiosity of a child who uses
to provide the answers. She seems to be in a hurry, going from sky to
to food to love, eager to cover everything.
It has often been said that there is nothing
new under the sun, but Margot Schilpp takes that hurdle with ease by
her thoughts in fresh language, thus finding ways to present her
in an original way. With the first poem, "Red-Winged Blackbird," she
pulls us into her thought patterns and her way of viewing the world:
bends across the field
like a hair
out of place, though not exactly.
sky is bleak and it weeps: gray
all day isn't
the only way of grieving.
Longing is a
knife that blunts itself
the dull muscle
of the heart. . . .
the beautiful markings of birds?
draws across, red-winged
into the fence, drag
a crimson thread
across the eye.
Probing whatever she sees or feels,
presents interesting ideas: "A bomb is just a miracle turned backwards,
/ a map only a suggestion — box of lines." From the outset, the author
puts us into a sort of suspense, conditioning us to read on lest we
something essential. In "Proper Subjects" she tells us, "There is
tea steeping / on the porch, a wide-planked affair clamping / three
of the house that absorbs / the whole family's secrets." Aware of the
she has just aroused in us, she goes on to explain why she chose not to
disclose any of those secrets. "The world / doesn't want to know
everyone / hustles to set up the folding chairs."
Throughout this book, the author thrills us
with unexpected phrases as startling as a sharp thunderbolt in the
of a sunny afternoon. In "Poem With Hidden Meanings That, as a Child,
Always Feared" she interrupts an idyllic setting with a comment on
cruelty: ". . . the animal / sees you stuffing your kids' throats /
dogs; the animal takes / a finger from your child's hand." She uses a
approach in "Manifesto," a poem which was included in the recent
Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement (University of Iowa
you must have
considered what it means
to do without.
You must have thought
coefficient of the body
do not forget
that there are
people who are willing
palm to your chest.
For a while at least, the poet
by fire, which is mentioned in a number of poems at the beginning of
book: ". . . beauty, another hard-to-capture fuel / that burns when you
it close to fire." ["On the Nature of Amber"] "Why not cast the
rag, the straw, / the old lump of your heart / into the flames and see
what catches fire?" ["Auto-Pilot"] "Maybe it's not too late / to
reconstruct the burning." ["Proper Subjects"] "Somewhere a
warms her hands / by a fire, holds the morning,. . . You can turn me
ash — / hold me until I become transparent." ["Poem With Hidden
Fire is also mentioned in "When Brains
the Future," where the author compares herself with pigeons that have
in on windowsills of the bomb-proof building where she lives, as if
required something strong and indestructible to support their nests.
no way / to rid ourselves of them / and it's been tried —
/ noise, fire — they resettle / themselves calmly back on the
/ and I am counting their eggs." Schilpp acknowledges that she,
needs something to rely on: ". . . and in a way, / I, too, refuse to
am walking / toward it in nothing but / my belted raincoat to meet my
Calling her awareness "Obsessional," the
describes herself as "obsessed with corn, and the husks / of corn, with
the yellow of bees / and pineapples and lemons." When on a train,
she is "obsessed / with the train, with strange murmurings / and steel
that bends around sound." She concludes, "I have become /
with drama: I walk among / the dynamite and hydrangea, and live."
The poems in the second section seem calmer,
more reflective. One has the sense that the poet has gained
from past experiences, and drawn certain conclusions about various
of her life, and life in general.
We meet Margot at age six, accompanied by
her family, in the poem "One Sunday Each Spring." Dressed up in
gingham and patent leather shoes, she has brought along an empty Easter
basket to be filled with daffodils that are growing in an untilled
she describes as "a
yellow cathedral." But as always, this yearly adventure leaves
with mixed emotions. Although she squeals with delight at the
squeak as her hand slides down the stems, she is disappointed that
glorious blooms have no fragrance.
At age 14, she abandons her piano lessons
in favor of riding a horse, in the ring and on the trails, one of them
leading to a pig farm that in summer "smelled almost evil." In
years, after someone close to her has died, she turns for solace to a
or the idea of a river which "cleans the landscape and the soul."
The soothing sound of water flowing past frees the imagination as
"There are possibilities / you've never considered: winter / is a heat
so cold it warms you. / Love is a method to learn pain."
In "A Nap Sounded Good," we find her relaxing
on the sofa, dreaming of generations of peoples in exotic places, like
Egypt and Japan, who worked harder than she would have been willing or
able to work, at skills with which she is not familiar. But she
see herself doing any of that: "It's more my vision that I helped
/ something; Linear B, a method / for weaving palm frond mats, /
brick, Greek coins, delicate ink, / a way to harness fire, the
Toward the end of the book, the poet has
her expectations. What some of us may take as negatives, she
accepts. "One trouble / with always is now, how / a body turns
itself," she muses in "A Very Short History of Everything." And
if to answer someone who is complaining about life, she adds, "Go back
/ to what came before, the corset, / the arrow, rancid meat hanging /
a square. Is this / where you want to live and die?"
Despite her realistic outlook, the author
is not immune to lamenting progress and the passage of time. But
she yields to what she cannot change. "Things are already / the shapes
they want to be," she observes in the poem "On the Natures of Matter
Time," and continues,
it's a new thing, forever
and ever, until
it breaks apart again
else. It's no use dividing
the world into
broken and unbroken, whole
and sick. It's no use
tears become drops. Just water.
Like most of us, Schilpp has come
that basically we are pawns unable to circumvent our fate, regardless
our plans, goals and wishes. And she is not reluctant to acknowledge
by one we
and we go, but
I can see,
image of hypnotic light
me when my eyes close:
is; It isn't.
One of these
I thirst, there
is no water.
of desire that fling
your throat, butterflies
against your throat.
. . . How much
can it hurt
looked and was burned,
turning to track
the sun across
to heat me so
that I didn't
burn from the
["Poem from Across the Country"]
The World's Last Night
journey that takes us out of ourselves and then brings us safely
Margot Schilpp writes with authority in a clear, steady voice. She
what she wants to say, and she finds new and interesting ways to say
engaging the reader's full attention. I look forward to her next
book, and I wish her continued success.
Schilpp, Margot. The World's Last Night.
Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001. ISBN: 0-8874834-8-8
© by Marianne