Kiely Sweatt’s Origin Of
Patasola Press, June 2012, 68 p.
“It’s all about electric sockets” in Kiely Sweatt’s debut collection Origin Of, whose speaker will wrestle boredom for just “five minutes […] full of hot,” and searches for escape routes from domestic moments that merely “crackle and then burn.” Published this year by Patasola Press, Sweatt’s book ticks forward “our lives in five second intervals” with a few, sweeping backward glances (“Remember when we lived in Spain and everything seemed celebratory?”). At its height, Origin Of‘s uneasy domesticity recalls the insomniac pacing, after-dark décor, and restless four a.m. walking in Deborah Landau’s The Last Usable Hour; I imagine Sweatt’s speaker, as Landau writes in All Else Fails, “Strutting around / for awhile until poof.”
Sweatt’s poems also reveal the desperation in daylight and the struggle of a dynamic speaker (“I go under the name Utah, Manitoba, Albania, Pakistan and Bella / Coola”) to make her own space.
They often have a sculptural quality, both in form and in their detailed, haiku-like precision. This is a book that can begin in wide-framed fantasy:
Maybe we’re in Italy on the water. The car door jams.
Betty and her drug squad come. Go baby, Go!
It’s guns and Jimmy Jazz, guns and Sammy Masters.
“To Virginia!” he says, “There’s no other way to get what you get.
…But end in a close-up of fine china. The most “electric” poems of the collection, remarkably, are the ones that inhabit the intimacies of a household space. Sweatt turns a recognizable disquiet, such as a day full of “signs pointing to the non-alignment,” into a series of escalations:
I break plates.
The neighbors close their curtains.
I feel like throwing up sleep
And all I can say is, “thank you.”
The details mount: “a faint smell of growing houseplants,” “a pot of rice and leftovers,” or “The overdose of patterned carpets.” “I’m grey and bored and endlessly squeezing melons,” Sweatt says in approximation of her future. And, in frustration: “I seem more interested in wonder-working / like the power of my foot / bursting into this wall.” “No one else is annoyed by this?” the speaker asks loudly at the playground as she watches the “over enthusiastic mothers […] with their children looking for appraisal / in their little mirrored reflections”. (In anticipation of this moment, Sweatt also tells us What a Mirror Says: “My life seemed long”). Rote moments become reckless ones. Yet, when the present reality is tedious (“Listening to that voice down the hall / stirring milk in a wine glass is like paint drying a reminder note”) or somehow moves forward too effortlessly, the speaker devises alternatives:
My car is working nicely
and I’m inventing the need for you.
I hope you’re a Frenchman with a thick accent
in a floor length fur coat.
The fantasy gets louder, even as it grows more unremarkable: “I’m on the bedpost screaming / for morning sex and burnt toast.” In a collection that can swing from interior spaces to Paris sunsets, tangos, and black lakes, these “small” yet emotionally noisy moments are the most vivid:
Maybe it’s something small like
I don’t feel the same anymore.
But I do
But, Sweatt also tell us: “The word ‘vivid’ contains / a warning.” To further combat her sense of dislocation (“non-alignment”) or her homesickness for the past, the speaker comforts (and provokes) herself by writing origin stories, looking for patterns for why her life is “chipping”; why a relationship has collapsed (“Living alone is freeing, / but lately I find the lonely side more”). She’s looking for an “autopsy” perhaps, or “a profound understanding.” (“I want to know more about your other parts, parts / I felt pieces of. / I eventually thought you’d settle so we could consider our options,” she writes to her former love).
What is “the origin of restricted breathing?” Is the origin of restlessness also the origin of invention? The past only squirms under Sweatt’s scrutiny. “Seems so everyday / to look back towards a city […] I can only imagine my city / turning behind itself.” Gradually, the speaker comes to understand her impatience a part of a sequence; herself as both reader and writer of her own origin story:
You describe a person first,
by describing her body,
then speak from the point of view like
you lost something who lost someone.
There may be clarity in collecting and rearranging details, in outlining anger, in fantasizing about screaming and kicking through walls. “Defining this may seem strange,” Sweatt writes. “[…] like repeating words too many times.” Yet: “The overdose of patterned carpets / suddenly makes sense.”