|The Kingdom and After
Poems by Megan Fernandes
|Tightrope Books, 2015
Reviewed by Alyse Richmond
Former Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship awardee, Megan Fernandes,is an American-Canadian poet and author of the full-length poetry collection, The Kingdom and After (Tightrope Books, 2015). She serves as poetry editor of the anthology Strangers in Paris and is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: Organ Speech and Some Citrus Makes Me Blue. The Kingdom and After greets us with a mysterious and worldly look inside Fernandes’ personal timeline, from family history to strange heartaches borne out of maturation. Her characters are sentimental, melancholic at times, and ask us to slow down, to absorb into shades of yellow and green, and to befriend unsolicited ghosts.
Often unnerving, Fernandes’ devotion to recounting her relationships is hypnotic. She employs couplets and lone lines with finesse, allowing the reader to carefully envision the rooms she enters, the landscapes she gazes upon, each stanza thriving in its own space, as in “Dig”:
…Inside, spiral of Alpine skies
dissolving into platinum wires,
binding screws and toffee cake teeth, rampant
suds of incandescent heat weave into tub dreams…
Her language is lyrical on the page and when read aloud, yet it maintains a sort of methodical sadness, an old clock that still ticks but somehow loses time—again, as in “Dig”:
you will have a wife, and
I will have a daughter and
we won’t meet like this again.
Divided into three sections, The Kingdom and After is thick with a sense of place, whether it’s India, Africa, or nonspecific locations such as “the forest” or “the sea.” Each scene is vividly drawn and filled with animals and seasons, while her telling, unyieldingly honest language acts as a magnet. It pulls hands to our chests over and over again without allotting time to flounder in sorrow. Fernandes instructs us to move forward, keep connecting the dots in her life in poems like “The Baby”:
…when you finally said
you were a wreck and no,
do not touch me and left…
…I need to tell you
I think about it.
This fresh take on nostalgia never lingers too long, and is balanced with “feel-good” moments, as in “Lung, Cheek, Air,” where she provides a morbid, but welcomed, sort of comic relief:
the vessel began to dive and the two grown men
on either side began to lose their shit,
I thought, “Great. I am going to die between
these two idiots, going to Canada no less,”…
Rather than indulging in the never-ending “whys” of yesterday, Fernandes dives into a world of free association, almost forcing answers to surface. In reading her title poem, “The Kingdom and After,” one can’t help but attempt to pull lines apart from one another like necklace chains balled up in a jewelry box:
…God, we are so poor.
I am so poor that any loud night is decadence.
Any boy on any staircase is Hollywood.
Her tone and use of the second person point of view are both confessional and accusatory, telling us what she feels we need to know in order to understand, to empathize. Fernandes wants her readers to form opinions about her characters, to judge them, in a way. And while blatant omission in poems like “Queens” can be quite alarming, it is implemented thoughtfully, generating flashbulb images and jarring juxtapositions:
…The swamp air is peached and
can be spooned, the animals are calm and low to the dust…
…I know what you make little boys do.
I know you are queens and not gods.
Fernandes engages us in her narratives unapologetically and sometimes without permission, but we walk away unable to keep from mulling over her words, her reasons for wanting us to see the things she has seen. Her reflective voice is present from beginning to end, though she is skilled at camouflaging it with blunt dialogue and lines that seem to trail off into thin air; making The Kingdom and After read as a box of old letters to home, fully immersing us in her unparalleled verse, displayed in “Rising”:
…I was in the center feeding the world
and the other ghosts were making themselves
bodies in the grass, rising
like puppets to come find me.
She closes The Kingdom and After in a beautifully abrupt manner— the way birds take off when startled—with “Jules et Jim, 2005”:
…She called you
chubby once, he had said and I hated you,
but you were dead and how could I, with you
all butchered up, underground in White Plains?
It is impossible for us, as readers, to dismiss the power behind Megan Fernandes’ stories that are strung together like a well-loved sweater— soft, ever thinning, and peppered with tiny holes that enable us to experience the chills of the not-so-sunny days gone by.