Afterimages is a journey of the eye, what the eye observes and what the eye cannot forget. Cathryn Hankla writes,
I inhabit is a visual question,
marked by a balancing line
of light on distant water, a mirror
These poems balance the death of family members against the monologue of a woman who comes to life under the coroner’s knife. Memories of a life-saving class counterbalance the image of drowned lovers in the film Women in Love.
Photography, painting, and film all figure as arts that the mind uses to transcend loss and that the memory uses as aids to preserve the lost. Hankla’s eye for detail—soft down between the shoulder blades of a young cousin, silvery waves in the hair of two aunts remembering their flapper days and displaying the braids they bobbed—is as immediate as a touch on the shoulder and as fascinating as light flickering on a movie screen.
There is no such thing as perfect communication
as our train whistles north through fields
of broken pines that my eyes climb
branch after broken branch to their needled
widow’s walks. I look out over this landscape,
panning through the movie it becomes,
and my mind wanders until I see, more
clearly than ever before, your
faces. Each window frames a changing composition,
sometimes my own face, that registers only as
Hankla’s poems are a changing composition of the dead and the living, of black and white challenged by the light falling on peach, plum, and green apple in a Vermeer painting. Ultimately, these poems offer us, in the poet’s words, “courage not to save / our best for bitter ends” and “strength / to repeat that this earth wouldn’t have us forget.”
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