A Review of Incident Reports by Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2014)
Caitlin Thomson's masterful second chapbook, Incident Reports, chronicles the story of a slow journey through a world that is passing slowly into an apocalypse. Not the apocalypse of movies, novels and popular culture, but rather a quiet gradual slide to empty spaces, abandoned houses, and night skies in which the stars and moon are no longer visible. The poems resonate with a profound sense of absence, but also an embrace of that absence.
The opening poem, Space is Not Equal to X or Y, sets a bleak yet beautiful picture of an abandoned world, reclaimed.
I awake to the world
Constructed without dreams,
the one I left to dust itself off
in blue exhaustion.
The rains of winter descend
outside, and I am
unbalanced, in wool socks
waiting for distance
to become time.
In Thomson's work, everything that is superfluous is sucked up, the bones are bare and the air between her stanzas speaks as much as her choice of words. There is a sense of slow abandonment and resignation. In This New Dark, the protagonist states: We could see the televised/states still covered in stars./The moon moving through cycles/a distant clock.
As the story progresses, the sense of loss increases, each protagonist observing another detail of the slow decay of the world. In A Fond Farewell, we say goodbye to all of the birds:
It was only a few pigeons at first,
Outclassing their neighbors,
Flying a touch too high.
Then it turned into flocks
Ravens flew straight at the sun
As if it was a giant piece of tin,
A bauble, a mirror.
The namesake core poem, Incident Reports: The Vanishing is a series of twenty-one case file vignettes of people and things that have gone missing, spoken predominantly in the voice of one who has been left behind. Though the voice is first person, it dips back and forth between a male and female persona with a chilling ingenuity.
Case File: No. 1
My husband was washing dishes,
his hands in those yellow rubber gloves,
The water running, a hum.
I looked up to a sink full of soap
limp gloves on the tiles.
Case File: No 7
The stars thick above me,
fireflies coming out of the marsh,
mating. I leaned over to shake
my wife awake in her sleeping bag,
but the synthetic plaid
covered no one. I waited
two days, smoking
till my pack ran out.
Thompson's world slowly drains away detail by detail, and with it Thompson captures the essence of human struggles, hope chasing away despair, light and darkness.
Case File No. 16
People no longer talk about loss
As if it is something only they feel.
We dance in public. If a wail
is heard we hug the stranger.
So familiar is the sound of our bodies
before they fall asleep.
And then finally, there is acceptance and a hint of madness in the new world.
Case File No. 21
Damn your tears and tissue,
You survived, celebrate! Have beer,
Smoke, shoot out the windows
Of the house, now empty, next year.
In In Light, Thomson explores memory. Boundaries are in flux.
…When I try
to compare notes, opinions differ, some swear yolk
use to be more orange, that fall leaves
formerly crunched underfoot instead of squishing
quietly into less. My husband claims nothing has changed
but the time we have to notice minutia.
Ultimately, the protagonist learns to embrace the new world. In A Post Lunar World, the protagonist attempts to describe a now non-existent moon and stars to her children.
I had to draw a picture of the moon
For my children, charcoal etched on stone.
My failure to describe the stars an ongoing one.
The many suns of night? Lanterns so far away
They appear to be fireflies? Bright holes?
Even the moon, an absent touchstone for me,
is to them a myth. A bright gravity defying rock.
Thomson's extraordinary poems explore the absence found in the in-between spaces, the moments between blinks, the slow seconds between heartbeats. Thomson's delicate and clinical ear proceeds with lightest of touches and a subtle sense of fine-tuned emotion. She writes with deceptive simplicity – having excised all superficial flesh to reveal the essential skeletal framework of the natural world. Though there is a haunting sadness throughout the journey that Incident Reports represents, in the end we are left with a clean cauterized sense of despair and a hopeful glint of light and purpose.