She collects pieces, forms whole body slowly
In Movement No.1: Trains, by Hope Wabuke, (Dancing Girl Press, 2015) an abundance of unexpected, organic relationships power through this chapbook, transmitting energy between humans and people, sound, color, and movement. Like the line referenced in the title above, there are many bodies at play in this collection. The train is a body, and the people, parts, stored inside.
Using fluid language and an almost dream-like tone, Wabuke gives us glimpses of humanity’s core like spying on a commuting passenger through the windows of a subway car: intense yet indirect, witnessing a presence briefly. It’s how Wabuke wants us to see: life like “tiny match stick toys.”
The word “movement” in the title illustrates a dual meaning: physical movement and orchestral movements, the actual text caters to the ebb and flow of daily life while also illustrating the navigation through an urban jungle. The energy never stops.
Wabuke begins her first poem in mid-sentence— we are moving already—and the train is alive in all of its magnificent silver glory. We have all waited for a train but Wabuke’s writing anticipates an animal coming around the corner:
“…and when she waits, knowing its coming by the movement of light
across rusted metal, the dirty white tiles of tunnel wall almost
beautiful in the light sliding closer through darkness…she imagines the sound she hears is breathing.”
Like a mystical living force the train gives birth to shadow and light. Turning corners unseen, making noise, consuming space. We read these poems as blurry–eyed infants seeking out black and white shapes, alternately lulled and startled by Wabuke’s insightful words and descriptions.
Metal is a wonderful detail that ties people together in this book. Who is holding the metal poles, who lets go of them to fall into each other as the train lurches ahead, who holds steady. The metal is a lifeline for all of the riders, forced to hold on and mesh their limbs into places that don’t mesh. There is other frenetic pops of color as well. The colors Wabuke uses are very specific: grey, (grey water, grey bridges, grey sky,) but also a relieving blue ink sky, a yellow moon piercing the night, and popping red seats are beacons of light and reprieve amongst the train’s cacophony.
“sometimes when she sits on the red plastic chair that is one among
many alternating rows of yellow and red seats bolted to the inside
walls of the train, she is not used to so much space below her…shifting
slightly against molded plastic shape that does not fit her form.”
It is through this image, trying to curve one’s body into a tiny plastic chair, that we meet “him.” He is mostly described in the past tense already, almost as soon as we meet him, he is gone.
At one time he used to bump arms against the girl in the poems, but no longer. We get the sense of “him” and time, whooshing by. He is there one second, gone the next, like a missed train.
“…he would hold her hand then, first pressing two fingers tight
to circle her wrist marking the point of meeting until, releasing, he
would hold the two fingers up to his eye, laugh and call her tiny…”
And then later:
“and on the day after his leaving. she notices his absence in the
awkward stillness of her legs, the way her arms hang stiffly at her
His presence is secondary to the action of the train, the girl, and the crowds. The masses are always moving: dancing on the platform while waiting for the train to a hypnotic drum beat, hands waving above heads, eyes in heads looking up for rain. All of the senses blur together magnificently where one can never escape noise or people. This could be any city.
Wabuke captures an ethereal stillness amongst such noise and music. People sway and look and touch and never stop but it is beautiful. The masses moving and stopping is similar to an orchestral swell or street performer ten minute act. She writes:
“…he would touch drumsticks to upside-down white buckets to make beats, she would
see sound touch tile in tunnel walls and touch heels to ground.
rocking upward in tiny motions, she would lift hands lightly; she
would move her body in tiny circles of his rhythm.”
These masses move and strive to find a rhythm and a place in the world that makes sense. As Wabuke so accurately describes: “the pressing of a shape into something else.” Strangers mingling can be unsettling, but Wabuke joins them, links us to a higher power. These poems are so spiritual despite describing and participating in a commute, which is often a source of stress for most people. Wabuke writes:
“…in this space without sound or light, she will remember how in the
sounding of first explorations they would move parts to form one
body. so she will stand, rise and press close to half-open window,
push frame to crawl out. the train, restarting.”
Wabuke’s words transport us out of the train, into the pouring rain, into the sky. The water invades the tunnels and platforms. This natural element is not supposed to exist down here along the cement with the rats, sprawling puddles on concrete, dripping its own drum sound. Yet here it is. It finds a way in through rivulets, the ceiling breaks open, people push with one big surge to get out, escape into daylight, reborn. The water is a relief.
No matter what walls and tunnels are built, the boundaries of silence, not making eye contact with someone five inches from your face on a train, human-ness finds a way, rushes to the next stop, runs to get to the exit first to breathe the fresh air.
In these poems, Wabuke deftly explores that transition form “I” to “you” to “us” and back again. Leaving the inside to step outside is tough, but she tells us the movement will happen, whether we like it or not.
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and now lives in the DC area. Recent chapbooks are out or forthcoming from Grey Book Press, Dancing Girl Press and Shirt Pocket Press. Her first full length collection is forthcoming from Lucky Bastard Press. Recent work can be seen or is forthcoming at Jet Fuel Review, Pith, Right Hand Pointing, Chiron Review, Cider Press Review and decomP. Visit: http://jennifermacbainstephens.wordpress.com/.