In your twenties your smallest decision is “what size mug do I like for my coffee?” You don’t even get into travel mugs that day because it’s so overwhelming with all the big decisions you’re supposed to be making.
I like a very round mug. When I lift it to drink, it covers my eyes, but not my eyebrows. A perfect ‘coming of age’ mug.
But society tells us that we should have already ‘come of age,’ right? We should be finished with college somewhere around twenty-two. We should be looking at marriage prospects somewhere around twenty-seven, or at the cusp of graduation because one celebration sometimes just isn’t enough. We should already be done dating boys our friends call “losers,” boys that science has proven just don’t mature as fast, or just fast enough for each of us, men that “hold us down,” according to popular television series and internet slang. This should all be figured out. All the math of relationships, all the financial growth, all the decisions about where we might want to settle with all the trigonometry we’ve created with this significant other who makes us question if “soul mates” are real or a Disney broken promise.
I think poet, Sarah Kay, reaches for this idea of an unfinished product that society expects to be whole. In No Matter the Wreckage there are poems about girlhood, relationships, family ties and expectations, letting go, not giving in, and there are even trivial poems that I found were a little meaningless, but I think they still fit into the idea of this collection.
This book spoke to me, which made it the perfect book to end the year on. It also had me waltzing down memory lane with my own twenties journey. I’ll be turning twenty-eight relatively soon and this book was a good reflection on where I’m coming from, and where I want to go this year. Only two years from thirty, AH! I’m adulting, constantly, which is scary, but also kind of refreshing because I know where I’ve been successful.
Sarah Kay is a turn key with words. She can adjust a words meaning in three lines and it seems to fit perfectly in its new home. ”
“Only once, he let it get so close I screamed. I had never made / that kind of sound before. He turned, his face a prayer wheel / atop his neck, a smile so foreign I could not speak its language / like water running in reverse, he spilled himself to safety.”
There’s so many moments that are a surprise in this simple quote. A face as a prayer wheel, a man “spilling to safety.” A world where each of us are puddles makes a lot of sense to me with water the way it moves and freezes. I remember seeing Da Vinci working these ideas for science in his Codex at our state art museum. He was trying to perfect hypothesis on the way water movies, the Biblical flood stories, the reasons fossils were at the tops of mountains, how to build bridges and rigs to stop water flow and what shapes work best to move water. These ideas somehow go together in my head. Humans can be liquid worries, people can be cold, sometimes even frigid. Water is the way we describe ourselves at our worst (or best, like warm), and Sarah Kay uses this idea in a completely new way.
When she talks about her relationship with her brother, I can’t help but think of my own. This man that I compete with, and adore, but truly know very little of.
“You told me once that I was just the first draft / and I’m inclined to believe you, but you / came with a lot more pieces to assemble and / Mom and Dad never got the manual.”
This quote is from her poem “Brother.” Her titles weren’t the most interesting or effective. (We wouldn’t study them in a high school classroom). But I think this quote references the way a lot of people feel about their siblings. There is a forced sort of love, then a biological love, and then the way we always look at each other’s differences until someone asks about our similarities. Plus, this idea that boys are more like Legos and girls are more “easy to raise.” My parents just had this conversation with another couple. I think I’m more of an emotional hurricane than my brother, but I think he was “harder to raise,” as the stories of grunge t-shirts, and car crashes tend to go. Brothers are something to be put together, sisters are something that have to be kept whole(some).
Poetry wise, I think this collection could be just as strong if it was written as prose. Her line breaks aren’t spectacular or broken for any particular reason. She is popular as a spoken word poet so I’m assuming that most of these poems were meant to be spoken, but even then, I don’t think they look like poetry on the page. The sound devices can be moving, but the stereotypical rhyme expectations are nonexistent. The ideas and the words are stronger than the lines themselves.
In “Jellyfish” I think she pinpoints twenties on the map.
“And somewhere in between then and now / irony slipped its way into my vocabulary. / Laughter became the antidote for guilt. Sacrifice grew to be the bandaid for shame.”
Also, in “The Moves,” I think she captures the amount of change we make in our relationships in our twenties.
“Leaving is an easy art to learn. But the / advanced steps – the pirouettes and arabesques / are difficult to master. / This is how I disappear in pieces / This is how I leave while not moving from my seat / tho sis how I dance away. / This is how I’m gone before you wake.”
I keep coming back to this idea in my head, but Claire once said in a comment on this blog something along the lines of “Life is a series of attaching and letting go.” I think this is the basic premise of No Matter the Wreckage. I don’t think this is the same thing as loving and losing. I think in your twenties you make (sometimes rash) decisions of who gets to stay and who has to go. A conversation with Kiran over breakfast the other day went something like, “I literally have no friends with drama anymore.” I don’t think this is because we’ve matured, even though that’s true, I think it’s that I just rid myself of the people who still held onto things that hurt them over and over, or who made decisions that were blatantly terrible for their humanity, or who just cared enough to complain over and over about the same thing. I think we’ve all found the baskets to put our eggs and I’m thankful for the people who either stayed, or who I worked to keep, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t let go of quite a few along the way.
And this is okay.
It’s 2016 and this is okay.
And if you need a book to further the “okayness” inside yourself, to calm the butterflies or the train on a hillside, pick up No Matter the Wreckage. There are poems that won’t matter and poems that will matter so much that you have to scribble them down in the ugliest handwriting to keep from crying. Sarah Kay isn’t the most immaculate poet, she doesn’t need a spot in the canon, but if you find her at just the right time, she’ll put her finger on that burning red button inside you and give you the strength to press down.