In an age when apocalyptic threats have become a plague unto themselvesâ€”whether one kneels at the alter of spirituality, science, or general confusionâ€”a collection of letters from a protagonist beyond salvation may seem like overkill.Â Karin Gottshallâ€™s second collection of poetry, however, reminds us of the true weight of rapture: Flood Letters demurely and achingly catalogues the final transmissions of a hurricane survivor, stretching the narratorâ€™s consciousness into animal and divine worlds as she fights to remain human under the forces of nature. Flood Letters is quite possibly the most openly desperate manuscript Iâ€™ve read in a long time. The wordsâ€™ power lies not in the clamor of despondency, however, but in its quiet. Thereâ€™s little bite; this is a gentle mauling. It seems a shame to break up the collection, and Iâ€™m compelled to at least quote the piece â€œDear Lucidity, no one elseâ€ in its entirety:
Dear Lucidity, no one else
to say they saw it or didnâ€™t, but this
gray morning a starved
white horse came wading up
the empty street. Two if you count
his reflection. Horses are rare
enough that Iâ€™m willing
to count it, especially as it stayed
awhile after the flesh horse
had passed, grazing on the oily
remains of the border hedge.
Then dispersed when the heavier
rain began. Such deluge. I wanted
a horse when I was young. I had
the usual dreams of small
girls. Iâ€™d nearly forgotten.
He never waded backâ€”headed
Toward the flooded industrial
yards, the strip mall that burned
in the first storms.
Gottshallâ€™s language echoes that of an increasingly lonely world, sparse and tender, and her lines seem both aware of the small space they assume and more powerful for it. Most pieces are less than a page long and balance meticulous composition with a dreamlike quality that mirrors the patent lap of water, the lull of constant rain. Â Gottshall understands both the appeal and the repulsion of giving up; each piece bristles with the quiet kinetics of keeping each in check. Starvation, cold, and the dead world strip away everything the narrator has, yet her weak grip on civilization seems more hopeful than pitiful. This is the magic of Flood Letters: the speaker holds on. We see a soul one step beyond capitulation, the need to exist as a creator, the hope of futile correspondence. The reader is compelled to reply.
Aiden Arata studies literature at NYU. Her writing has appeared on the Bon AppÃ©tit blog.