The Body Is a Little Gilded Cage:
A Story in Letters and Fragments
by Kristina Marie Darling
Published February 2012
Boston, MA: Gold Wake Press
This is a curious, lovely collection of bits and pieces that are so light and clear, like crystal, that the quiet act of reading is all it takes to electrify them. Of course the glinting images are fleeting, so they subside quickly too — but you can turn them back on any time by rereading.
The title is accurate: the book does tell a story. But it does that by giving us, page after page, not what is there, but what is around the edges. Our attention is drawn (with high zoom) to the things in the periphery of the main action: a glowing ash, a memory half brought back, a shadow or reflection, a touch or color or sound experienced but not fully registered. Even the esoteric, academic footnote observations are second- or third-generation musings extending from the original blur. Through these shining outward-facing facets, we come to know the characters, setting, and conflict underneath, and we come to sense the nature of the changes occurring — if not the changes themselves. We never exactly get the main event, but early on we accept doing without, and actually find ourselves, as readers, liberated… light.
After the first short section of the book, which is so brief it might serve as an
introduction or preface, the next section is already an appendix. By then we realize that the gaps in the wholeness of the picture have a larger purpose — that is, to prepare our reading mind for what the book really is: a collection of everything except the main part. Something is missing on each page: parts of sentences at the least.
The full charm of Gilded Cage comes with reading the book start to finish. While the accumulation of story elements is decidedly non-linear, the book's physical design and typography, playing on the strict form of an academic treatise, impose a linear and hierarchical order on its otherwise elusive content. This blatant conflict between form and content adds both interest and suspense and propels the reader forward. The final page delivers the satisfying sense that all the methods used — footnotes, appendices, notes, excerpts of primary sources — have worked to intricately wire together a gleaming structure around the (intentionally) absent center.
As for the poems/notes/letters themselves, the invisible handiwork persists. The remixing of certain words over the time and space of the pages — I won't give them all away, but they include chandelier, glass, glittering, luminous, throat—provides the book's real substance. The spiraling repetitions, sestina-like, bind together all its strands. The images (close-up views, wistful observations, voices) keep coming back around. Each reappearance is in a slightly different context — filling in as a variable in a different metaphor or appearing in an opposing literary form (footnote, letter, posthumous fragment) — cumulatively creating a kaleidoscope of sensual-emotional images that, as it slowly rotates, reinforces the original while slipping into the new. The reader's certainty that each poem could not be otherwise — singly, and as suspended with the others — grows with each page.