In Secondhand, Maya Marshall invites us to examine the everyday intimacies that our bodies share with strangers through the lens of the secondhand item. She shines light on the way in which we (are forced to) carve sensual moments out of the remnants of someone else’s similar moments.
One such instance is the opening poem, “Dressing Room: Thrift Store,” in which someone is trying on a blue slip: “…you think you/ Can sew the tear and how slick the blue slip will be/ between you and your sheets.” Marshall forces the reader to acknowledge that desire is not only as old as history and memory, but is equally used and well-worn.
“Secondhand Lingerie” expands on this theme by evoking the images of domesticity. We witness women in possession of “a black nightie/ to upcycle into passion/ after another night of chicken/ and pasta.” Marshall does not shy away from the fact that sex and its trappings are tied to both race and class and gender. If the speak bucks at the suggestion that same-sex attraction is a “phase” in the poem “Lust,” then that idea is deepened by the much more intimate lines of “Someone Borrowed”: “a girl will send you home/ in clean panties of her own.” This echoing across poems, the thrifted and reused, permeates the first section of the chapbook, “The Dressing Room.”
These echoes take on more depth in the second half, “What is Handed Down.” Here we read poems of the family and the question of what can be given, exchanged, or inherited takes on additional weight.
In “My Father’s House,” Marshall plays with language, deconstructing the idea of family only to reassemble it, much as one might repair a blue slip, using newer parts as seen in “The Youngest: Addendum.” Here the speaker states: “I watched him breastfeed at my mother’s table./ His mother, mistress, feeding him at my mother mother’s table.” Relationships, roles, even family structure can be secondhand.
The reusing, the repair, the handing down both changes the object and the speaker and, yet, changes nothing about the nature of intimacy itself. Nothing but a miracle could spare the speaker – or the reader – from the cycle of want and use, but as Marshall writes “Grace is cheaper than a miracle.”
Nicole Homer’s debut poetry collection, Pecking Order, will be out spring of 2017 on Write Bloody press.
The poems in Maya Marshall's slim chapbook, Secondhand, are arranged in two groups, Dressing Room and What Is Handed Down.
Opening in Dressing Room we consider poems operating in a psychic space of privacy, intimacy. This is self-facing clothing that cherishes those aspects of our bodies which relate to - or create - other bodies. Marshall's words thread together into a network of organized ambiguities (like the mesh and lace of some of the garments referenced in the poems).
The reader becomes more aware of the intimacy Marshall has created when sharp violent moments arrive. Momentary violence roots the poems in reality. In “Port of Entry,” Marshall unfolds a series of images which masterfully engage the reader's imagination.
The last poem in this group, “Someone Borrowed,” is the most concrete, acting as a hinge for the collection. Marshall pulls us into a new zone for self-identity (mirrored with lover). The poems’ internal rhythmic repetitions echo other poems in the group, but this poem's hardness, its 'broken-piece' structure, and its question of self give it a handle that I come back to after finishing the last poem in the book.
“What is Handed Down” brings us to the locus of inheritance. Now intimacy is not chosen, but instead was given to (forced upon?) us - by the culture (American Girl Movies) by the father or mother chosen for us, our siblings. Here the language becomes more direct (The Youngest: Addendum) as the body is direct. The relatedness describes lives in exchanges of language, instead of gestures (Baptism). Marshall has arranged this series of poems along a continuum of self-perceiving-self-and other, from the imagined to the embodied, with remarkable subtlety and control. I look forward to reconsidering these poems in the future, and reading her next work.
Jessica Fenlon is developing code-based projection sculpture for her March 2017 gallery show. Her second book of poetry, Manual for Wayward Angels, arrived in February of 2017 from 6 Gallery Press.
Think of the hands that have touched this cotton.
What wisdom do you get from hunger?
Note: You are a woman loosed.
Naked over her panties,
I consider how
a girl will send a girl home
in clean panties of her own.
I took the bus with my underwear
in my pocket.
Note: When you write about a black woman
a black woman,
You write about a ghost chasing
I took the bus
There is desire and
Shame and relief
In this story, (though
It isn’t yet
Fully a story (where
Is the middle?) She runs
Her nails down my thigh:
But there is no healing touch.
(She howls out, yes. It is her performance.)
Note: when you write about this borrowed woman,
you write about a woman who sells herself—
Punishment for some sin she can’t identify.
I consider how I took the bus
with no panties on,
to a borrowed room.
I took the bus naked over her
A queer question: am I into myself?
(Is it me?) Is she myself?
To purchase Secondhand by Maya Marshall contact the author at email@example.com
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