The Art of Seeing: The Arrangements by Kate Colby

Anna V.Q. Ross
| Reviews


As the book continues, time becomes both a mode of seeing and its object. In the opening stanza of “Pine,” our speaker/seer tells us “There’s a first time / for everything and / now we’re in for it,” as though time itself is meting out experience. In “Asarotum,” “time is retro - / viral, gifting it / self in remnants” that do nothing to fill the ominous “gap” at the end of the poem. The first stanza of “Overhead” declares “Time is no longer / than a breadbox,” and this recognition of its finite nature leads the speaker to notice the “stripped phalanges” of barren trees reflected in “still water” and the smoke “that billows in duplicate / from the hospital // incinerator.” The leap from “bread box” to “incinerator” is jarring in its swoop and scope, but this is, after all, how intimations of mortality confront us.
In “Look Out,” a few poems later, the speaker again confronts herself, and this time the reckoning feels both broader and more singular. She views not mountains, but “the idea of mountains / older than mountains,” again raising the specter of time, which is on her mind:

Peak season, one
week before I turn

forty, bittersweet
berries burst in on

their innards,

These “innards” evoke the unseen “entrails” that kept the speaker awake earlier in the book, but here we and she see them “burst” before us, an experience that is “bittersweet” but no longer terrifying, as is, perhaps, the experience of turning forty? “Days get numbered / later,” she continues:

but from
here I can see

where echoes go
to die behind me.

Are these “echoes” past selves? And are their deaths a release or an occasion for mourning? The speaker seems undecided, but the mention of “later” at least provides a sense of days to come.

In “Bad Star,” on the following page, this brand of mortal pragmatism continues. Colby’s speaker writes her own epitaph: “Here lies devoted wife, / mother, daughter” before remarking the “Time has no contemporary.” Yes, we’re subject to it, but this speaker seems almost cheerful, or at least resolved regarding the prospect. She has a plan, after all:

I use sealant

to deter the worms—
a broken couplet still

a unit.


Anna V.Q. Ross is a 2018 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in Poetry and the author of the poetry collection If a Storm and the chapbooks Figuring and Hawk Weather. She teaches in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Program at Emerson College and hosts the poetry and music series Unearthed Song & Poetry.

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