Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Top Ten New Mexico Poets: Malena Morling

The biography of Malena Morling prior to 2007 would give no indication that she might be considered a New Mexico poet: born in Stockholm, raised in southern Sweden, moved to the US to attend Hampshire College in Massachusetts, MA at NYU, MFA at Iowa, two critically acclaimed books--one by New Issues Press and one by Pittsburgh Press, Associate Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at The University of North Carolina, Wilmington and Core Faculty in The Low Residency MFA program at New England College. BUT, after numerous other awards, including The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award in 1999, and the Lotos Club Foundation Prize in 2004, in 2007, Morling won a Guggenheim that sent her to The School For Advanced Research in Santa Fe. After her year as a Research Associate, she had fallen under the spell of The Land of Enchantment, and she still resides there with her family, commuting weekly to North Carolina and biennially to New Hampshire to teach. In my book, that qualifies her as a New Mexico poet--and her poems make her one of my top ten favorite!

Morling sees the world with the eyes of a visitor, and that open stance is what made her a New Mexican poet, even before she had ever seen its eternal skies and infinite sands. Share her awe in the presence of "the other" in her opening poem to Ocean Avenue:


In the shape of a human body
I am visiting the earth;
the trees visit
in the shapes of trees.
Standing between the onions
and the dandelions
near the ailanthus and the bus stop,
I don't live more thoroughly
inside the mucilage of my own skull
than outside of it
and not more behind my eyes
than in what I can see with them.
I inhale whatever air
that grates breathe in the street.
My arms and legs still work,
I can sun if I have to
or sit motionless purposefully
until I am here and I am not here
the way death is present
in things that are alive
like salsa music
and the shrill laughter of the bride
as she leaves the wedding
or the bald child playing jacks
outside the wig shop.

Morling has a lot of poems about traveling on planes, on trains, in cars--she's told me that a lot of them were written while she was traveling, which she does often. For me, these poems are always negotiating with death, even if it is not mentioned outright, as it is in "Gone." (My apologies to Malena and my readers that I cannot format the poem as it is published in Astoria, with alternating lines indented.)


The world
is gone
like the exact
slope of a cloud
or the exact shape
of a hand waving
in the sunlight
from across
a crowded
train station
parking lot
to another hand
that waves back.

Come to think of it,
everything up to now
is gone.
And I have also
already left
even though
I still ride
the train
through the outskirts
of the city.

And I still sit
by the window,
the filthy
train window
while what is left
of the demolished
goes past
and the empty
and the transitory

It's amazing
we're not
more amazed.
The world
is here
but then it's gone
like a wave
traveling toward
other waves.

Or like
the delicate white
of the Dogwood
that float
as if there were
no gravity,
as if there were
not moments
isolated from
any other

If I had to attempt a one-liner for Morling's work, I might roughly quote those last few lines--her poetry supposes that there are "no moments isolated from any other moments anywhere."

Revealing the inherent connections residing in all things is a driving force of Morling's poems. And making the invisible visible, the ethereal solid, the palpable ineffable, is a current that sweeps all images along in her Zen-like Big Mind poetry. "If There Is Another World" is a perfect example:

If There Is Another World

If there is another world,
I think you can take a cab there--
or ride your old bicycle
down Junction Blvd.
past the Paris Suites Hotel
with the Eiffel Tower on the roof
and past the blooming Magnolia and on--
to the corner of 168th Street.
And if you're inclined to,
you can turn left there
and yield to the blind
as the sign urges us--
especially since it is a state law.
Especially since there is a kind of moth
here on the earth
that feeds only on the tears of horses.
Sooner or later we will all cry
from inside our hearts.
Sooner or later even the concrete
will crumble and cry in silence
along with all the lost road signs.
Two days ago 300 televisions
washed up on a beach in Shiomachi, Japan,
after having fallen off a ship in a storm.
They looked like so many
oversized horseshoe crabs
with their screens turned down to the sand.
And if you're inclined to, you can continue
in the weightless seesaw of the light
through a few more intersections
where people inside their cars
pass you by in space
and where you pass by them,
each car another thought--only heavier.

I don't know about you, but I'm "inclined to continue/in the weightless seesaw of the light" through a few more of Morling's poems, in hopes of seeing a few more connections, in hopes of seeing you passing by...maybe even on the way to or from New Mexico...

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