Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance by Fady Joudah (Milkweed Editions, 2018).
House of Fact, House of Ruin by Tom Sleigh (Graywolf Press, 2018).
Fady Joudah is the Palestinian-American translator of two of the poet Mahmoud Darwish’s books and a physician at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Houston. Medical science and a humanistic or humanitarian form of inquiry permeate Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance (Milkweed Editions), its volition grounded in fragmenting or even rendering unnecessary the logic and chronology of narrative, all the while building patterns rooted in sound and image that help piece together what remains.
The long prose poem “Palestine, Texas,” from the third and final section, both echoes and enacts the collection’s title as people in the speaker’s life inform him of the many small American towns that carry his homeland’s name: “Barely anyone lives there anymore. All of them barely towns off country roads,” the poem concludes. For Joudah, and for ever-increasing numbers of human beings, the fact that a place or a person or a people and a culture no longer ‘live’ or exist in no way means that they do not abide. Disappearance can make a place, its history, culture, and inhabitants or citizens even more prescient. These poems may be ‘footnotes,’ but they construct lists formal and informal, and thus create an order in the midst of chaos.
Similarly, the anaphora within “The Magic of Apricot,” the opening poem, enlarges and deepens the meaning of ‘disappearance,’ the most resonant repetition in this context being: “The magic of apricot may well keep us alive / a little while longer than unnecessary…” The ‘un’ reveals a great deal about the poet’s perspective on our species. Not that this lessens the need for comfort, love, and beauty, as the first lines from “Progress Notes,” also from Section One, enact:
The age of portrait is drugged. Beauty
is symmetry so rare it’s a mystery.
My left eye is smaller than my right,
my big mouth shows my nice teeth perfectly
aligned like Muslims in prayer….
The setting is a medical school’s autopsy room with 32 students assigned 32 bodies, certainly not a place in which one expects to find beauty, thereby making this poem with its provisional title so much more compelling. Meaning via affiliation in these initial lines emerges through mapping the constellation of sounds: symmetry, mystery, perfectly alongside rare and prayer. The work of Footnotes is fundamentally that of pattern-making amid radical disjunction/disorientation in which the essential clues or cues associated with narrative, that hallmark of human culture, manage to survive.