Judge's Citation, Heather McHugh
The Revolution Will Have Its Sky
by Maria Garcia Teutsch
The revolution will have its sky—where else might its banner wave, aloft,
esteemed--and still be widely legible? In order for us to discern what otherwise the
sight alone can’t catch, impulses appropriate letters, airs take shape, the wind turns
signs to tatters, tatters to signs. The author of these poems keeps an eye not on a
single great celestial value, but on the human disposition to scrips, emblems, notes,
names, lists: The scores we keep.
The tricks that contribute to this work's verbal motif are many, but not superficial.
Brothel trick, funeral trick, mirror trick, catafalque trick: they arise as the recourse
of an active alertness, in the face of masks, to the presence of representations.
In heraldry, an engraver's trick enlists letters or numbers (written or carved) to
represent colors (under whose airier sways may armies march). But this poet's
alerted attention is to another sort of detachment.
The senses of the word “trick” flicker between means and meaning, exploit and
exploiter, ruse and wit; between adroitness and waylaying; between wile and skill,
where working skeptics must be wary even of awareness: "Mirrors in tatters
become a veil." And where exactly are those "Stripes in gold fringes"? In words? In
garbs? The grand banners and regal ribbons of a Reine Soleil ? (Or the sun’s own
sine qua non , taken, in a coup d’oeil , for a single eyeblink?) Even love hurts; and
looking (or seeming) is its chief instrument.
This poetry isn't out to convert, but to advert. It doesn't pledge allegiance or invest
in transcendent causes, but rather observes some kinds of signs – signs of war, wars
of sex, hexes of communication It won't hallow a transparency; it won’t turn away
from an execution.
In the skeptic's etymology, to look and to reflect are kin. I watch, says the skeptic.
And the watch pulled from the Madame/ Queen’s breast “[s]teals a whirl of second
hands.” The ticker—with its little diamond—keeps count of time’s bit-bedevilled
billionfold: more and more representations of the claim to be one. Emblems of
Monarch, Freemason and Pope alike inscribe a dialectic: two arms serving the same
brain. (Hence the insignias of their respective realms: the unicorn's complement of
lion; the double-headed eagle; two keys crossed.)
The heart of the matter, the matter with consciousness, is the momentary: the
ticker cannot construct enough momentousness out of the countlessness or bits of
particulars. "…The eternal song/can prolong the funeral trick/ but for a moment…”
Whether in love or in politics, a con is attended by its pro.
This work's occasions are implicated in its materials: with trompes l'oeil , jacks and
johns, sleights of hand, this poetry registers some serious claims and obligations:
"After he sells her to the rebels/for 100 women…/…she becomes…/An anti-image
singing/to an image in a field of blue." (An engraver's trick is an anti-image too.)
Constitutions are (constitutively) vulnerable to prostitutions, restitutions,
In a final draft, the colors may come down to a blast of taps: "If you fasten a
collection/of decorations to a uniform/you can give last orders/ to last men." In
black and white, Old Glory has been tagged. Seeing illusions attached to
engagements, uses to ubiquities, profanities to idealism, privates to a general, The
Revolution Will Have Its Sky reminds us enlistees (whether in grays or blues,
whether in wishes or words, whether in war or love) how down-and-dirty signing
up can be.
February 14, 2015
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