Writing

Waiting for Blue to Appear

The Thicket 

Kasey Jueds

Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021

82 pages, $18.00

 

Kasey Jueds’ second collection The Thicket has intersecting emotional and imagistic arcs that reward the careful reader with complex realizations that refuse closure. Two questions are skeleton keys that allow the speaker—and the reader—to unlock metaphorical gates of self-awareness: “where am I?” and “where does one thing become another?” Jueds said these questions are the most important to her in a dialogue after a recent reading. In The Thicket, these questions reveal liminal spaces between people, places and sexuality. As well, the color “blue” represents these liminal relationships. It’s a blue (as in water or sky) that either reveals or obscures something the speaker must reclaim. 

 

1.

The Thicket begins with “The Silo,” in which the speaker asks: “Who keeps your secrets / now?—now that the grain you kept / to feed the winter herd / is gone.” The silo as metaphor for the self, is “where animal skeletons / gleamed in the circle of grass…wild things / trapped, unable to scale / your steep sides to the mute / O far above.” She asks her new lover, “which one / of us thought to call you / ruined then, which one / to name you almost beautiful?” As her “Little engine / of the mind stuttering, little / needle skipping against the record’s black disc / where it hits the scratched / place, the damage—" The circularity of the silo and the record reveal a self that is trapped and damaged, while the “O” of sky (perhaps blue sky) suggests an escape she cannot reach.

 

In “Of Pink,” the color pink is recast as a signifier of feminine power; it is not inside a “book of flowers,” but rather the “Pink of touch-me-there,” and “secret  / pink behind the knee.” The speaker confesses she “came late / to pink, though pink was always here.” Now, “pink” means “pink of oh. Pink of see-me. Of labia and lip....Pink of wound between  /  the sutures. Pink  / of live. See?” 

 

In “Briar Rose,” she states her dilemma: “How easy, then, to be / mistaken. To be so lost / and somehow found.” Referencing the story of “Sleeping Beauty,” she concludes, “In the story when / / she wakes, the story is over, and so everything  // can begin.” Loss becomes a visual separation in “The Trees,” where a caesura splits the lines in two, creating three possible readings; one across and one down each column. Only one line is whole, and the spaces return in the line that follows: “you must make shards // of your longing    which was/ already broken    and thus // complete.” 

 

Loss is further explored in “Drought,” as the speaker exclaims, “What do I do / with this nameless sadness....never quite flowering  / nor ever sufficiently tindery  / to set alight.” As well, in “Apart From Me, And Still,” Jueds questions where one thing ends and another begins, but she has no answer: “no word for the way  / into it was right. Not entrance // or door or opening—I never stepped/ inside.” The poem concludes, “At night that door // was still not a door, was / nothing I could enter.” 

 

 

In “The Kingdom,” liminal space is experienced as “visible / as a wound,” as a subtle change  occurs in the speaker.  Now she sees where she is: “vigilant thicket / toward which your eye// longs / where to be // hidden Is / to be kissed // in secret    and never / to name // its tangle / though you may // name its threads.” Here, for the first time, the “thicket” is an erotic place, a safe place to be “kissed // in secret.” This double sense of the thicket as both protective and erotic echoes parts of “Of Pink” and begins the healing of the speaker’s “wound” as she names it, and reconfigures it as an “entrance.” 

 

The images of an “island” and the color “blue” are linked and developed throughout the book. They are first linked in the poem “Unknown Natural Forces:” “If we could sink far enough / below the lake’s quivering // skin, would we find pieces / of the island that vanished?” This linkage prompts the speaker to conclude that “it would be years before I’d learn / the words for what erased // the island, before I’d hear, // inside my own head, that cry— // come back—and wonder // who I was calling.” 

 

The question: “where does one thing end and another begin?” is embodied by these linked images, but an explicit answer to that question is cast into the future by the speaker. In “Not All the Animals Sleep:”

 

...an island

vanished, slipped back into the lake

that birthed it. And long before that,

a glacier birthed the lake: receding,

it left behind a hollow into which water

found its way...That island: how sudden

or not the blue took it back. That lake

the coldest and most remote.

 

In this poem, the question “where am I?” invokes place and time as markers in the process through which we discover ourselves. The speaker knows this to be the case, though it involves a painful sense of waiting, a feeling that something is withheld. The poem concludes, “...I can imagine/ flowers might return, repeating / yellow, yellow. But how not to count / the days or hours till then: if / you will draw near, if you / will teach me—please, teach me this.” 

 

2.

“The Far Field,” which begins, “I could teach you” establishes that the speaker has learned the difficult lesson of waiting and listening. Now, she can see where the river “comes close / to vanishing under pines whose shade // is disordered and always, pouring / itself over the borders of blackberry.” And now, she can see “the path // where it surrenders its edges / to the tangle of field.” She is able to merge with place, where one thing becomes another, and further, she now moves beyond merely seeing to becoming.

 

In “The Hedge,” the loss in “Briar Rose” is reconfigured as fecundity of both the land and the female body. Her healing of the erotic self begins:

 

 

The suture 

of briars became blossom

became wound, the open 

place where they

 

were not. As you

were first a body, then

a body, like

 

the unbroken

thicket of radiant

flowers, as if nothing

had been injured or changed.

 

“Litany (Paulownia)” returns to the image of the island, no longer contained in a lake, but set in motion by the movement of a river. Answering the question where am I, the speaker sets in motion a river of words, a litany: “Given the river, the island at its center.// Given the island where no one goes...// ...Given breathings, springs nestled—-half a river’s width away the island, the tree. // Given no one goes, the smallest word for blooming.” She is partially free and can now move through the world and herself, even if that movement is lonely, even if it is “the smallest word for blooming.” 

 

Her understaning expands in “Litany (Easter):” “we could see again what we half-thought / we’d lost, returned to us // because we’d asked.” And yet, there is still more to be learned: “we did not know yet / how to give away pieces of ourselves, how // to play the old game of hide and hope / to be found.” This erotic duality of the self in relation to a lover is taken up in the couplets of “Unbidden.” 

 

...The thicket

swells with secrets: how your mouth

 

undoes mine, how even in the midst

of sleep I feel the tug of heat

 

from your back’s damp curve. 

 

Then, this moment is overpowered by a thicket of consciousness, a struggle within herself: “that nothing at the edge of woods or fall / is meant to be untangled. It takes years // for the lovers in the story / to become human again.”

 

 

3.

The last section of the book begins by acknowledging how far the speaker has come in “Looking Back (The Far Field).” She is now self-aware, though incomplete: “Harrowed, fallow, These too / can be used / to describe a field. To describe a distance / or a becoming.” Now the question, “Who // am I, when I am not with you.” becomes a statement. 

 

In “Self-Portrait as Lost Earring,” the speaker experiences loss and loneliness differently: “what I lost was not / a threshold, not a hinge. I retraced / my steps.” This loss is further clarified: “What / I lost was dreamlike, but it was not / a dream”; and even further, “I wanted to see [wilderness] breathing and real....the animal / I believed in more than God.” Loss leads the speaker to a clear identification with the natural world and specifically, “the animal” that is herself. 

 

“Birthday” uses the Buddhist metaphor of a “gate” leading to enlightenment to describe her newfound wholeness. It’s not completion or resolution, but a wholeness of the simultaneity of all things. “If a gate is open, leave it // open. If closed, leave it closed. If the one / before you hangs unlatched, brightening a space // for your body, in its vanishing, to pass through.” The man-made field is transformed later in the poem into a protective thicket, a “tangle / of stems...where the small // animals seek safety. Like you vanishing, // brightening, passing through // the gate.” She can tell herself, “listen, listen: you are // just beginning to be known.” 

 

“The Blind” extends the sense of becoming animal: “to render yourself // invisible so that // what is animal // may forget // or a while // and draw near.” With her animal self-activated, she is able to explore her own unconscious. In the poem, “Inverting the Winter,” she is strong, unafraid of a loss of self: “It was a subterranean, //  unconscious land that I longed for.” This leads to a powerful ecstatic moment, when language becomes physical and so makes visible the unconscious wild: “...the paper’s parched skin // opens to drink in pigment, ink. Over // and over the tree’s stripped limbs...Now // for the sky behind them. Now for the blue.” Blue is freedom, even if it is fleeting.

 

 

Later in “Talisman,” what was lost can be found: “in this // shallow water, find them // one by one by one.” In “Owl,” this retrieval extends to her own deepest erotic longings and fears, which language transforms into a new freedom as she rejects the “walls’ muted blue”:

 

And the story

I didn’t want to tell

wasn’t a story, and didn’t

have words. I carried it so quietly

one could know.

 

As I couldn’t know

the owl’s life: the trainer’s glove,

the walls’ mute blue.

But still I saw how it would

live, how it would fly.

 

Blue triumphs in the penultimate poem, “Body Of Water.” Fear is gone, and she can “tentatively” touch the mysteries inside her: 

 

What did it matter

the doors were closed? You had hands,

 

and blood to move them, blood you still pictured 

            as red like the fish, though coiled 

                        in the body—you must know this

 

by now—it is, as any water

            may show itself, blue.

 

The book could end here, with this poem, with the color blue. Yet, it doesn’t end here because life is messy, full of setbacks, and not even art can save it. Self-awareness is always a process, even in moments that engulf us, insisting upon, and paradoxically, resisting closure. This too must be acknowledged and spoken, as it is in the last poem, “Nightjar.” 

 

A Nightjar is a bird that appears at twilight. It is also a bird that hunts in thickets. In a world of solitary waiting and pill pushing psychiatrists, the speaker recounts a dream of a baby crying in a hospital as she “stood / in that hallway. How you couldn’t not / keep on living then, though the sobbing was bodiless / and there were so many doors, and only one / was the one you were meant to go through.” Here the speaker’s journey ends and begins anew, for again we are in the liminal thicket at the threshold of night and day, of blue.