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The speaker in The Possibilities of Mud roots down and out in the Texas Gulf. He puts himself in league with the deer of the arroyos and the other animals in the world. “The cattle egret is a golden life as much as she is white”–each creature seems a lesson in how to let the world be enough. The speaker’s insistence on likening animal and human bodies is wonderfully devastating: in “By the Arroyo We Asked For Water and Survived” we begin simply with the speaker observing a coyote search for water, then comes the merciless sun on this tableau, all elements and creatures arranged in congress with each other, literally at eye level. The “us” in the poem’s final line, which names the coyote, the speaker and the mesquite pods, feels true to the poem’s world and the speaker’s want to value, to love, everything living.
For Jimenez, as sanderling is to speaker, crane is to reader: I am consistently being implicated in the moral and aesthetic questions in The Possibilities of Mud. In “What I Said to the Great Blue Heron When He Asked Why I Did Not Leave,” nearly every line in the poem begins with “but,” and with this anaphoristic injunction Jiménez makes his case, wending through the Gulf. “But the pelican, like so many of us, will rattle himself silly, slamming his face/ for a fish in the lagoon, and he’ll do so recurrently, with ardor and honesty, over a lifetime.” Already I’m asking if and how I harbor this lovely futility, when I read, “But the promise, the promise…” The pleading tone of this line tells so well of anyone recounting the promise of a lover as we feel the logic of the poem’s larger thesis, loosen— our last intercession reads: “But I am a man still learning how and what to forgive.” In twenty-four lines, we’ve traveled the speaker’s seemingly inextricable identity from his lover, to a creature evolving as his beloved Gulf.
There is the long song of grief–“the heart as red as a moan”, he writes in “In My Truck Hangs a Tiny Jesus, His Heart, So Sacred, So Red” and there’s praise, too: “Yes, I admit, I am a little bit in love with God.” These poems touch the world not to take from it but to know it, to belong to it more fully. In “Home,” we read a near breathless account of a morning run—there is a cottonmouth and perhaps the start of a panic attack: “From the place where/ I stood, I couldn’t see much,/ and my body was expanding at/ this point, at a very fast rate…like a tiny piston inside/ me was moving around quickly.” Though earlier in the poem we learn that the speaker has been brought to this moment, by his own recent exodus from a relationship and by his ancestors travels, “walk[ing]/ away from every dry thing they/ knew… to search.” The cavalcade of images, mirrors so accurately, the mind in such a state, we move from cottonmouth to lantana to nopal to the muscled promesa of the snake’s mouth opening for a kill, delivering an ecstatic, Joycean ending: “and I thought, Yes, God, I have made it./ Yes. Yes. Yes.” Both in his choice to set apart, “God,” and in the poem’s title, there is a sense that the snake, the ancestors, the bird’s voracity, has been provided for such a revelation, an arrival, to occur— that “God,” is not merely an exclamation or turn of phrase, but an address, or at least an address to the kind of harmony Oliver points to in “Wild Geese,” the speaker having obtained finally a place “in the family of things”.
At once in mourning and in worship, he’s said his beloved is the larger body of the world, where we hear Mary Oliver, and in his narrative movements, there is Mark Doty. As Jiménez renders the violent end to a long relationship, he makes notations for a praise song, prayers toward how to go on— So let me slide this light into the belly this once,/ For believing is difficult.
The Possibilities of Mud
By Joe Jiménez
Paperback, 9780988967373, 97 pp.