Glory and Dissolution – Invisible Strings by Jim Moore

Invisible Strings

Invisible Strings
BY Jim Moore
(Graywolf Press, 2011)

The poems in Jim Moore’s Invisible Strings inhabit a realm of diminishing expectations, where aging and loss gradually and inexorably shrink the world. However, as the physical world contracts, that which is unseen — thought and emotion — expands, becoming more genuine than anything corporeal. This expanded inner place has its dangers too; to quote from “All That Talk of the Moon,” “Sometimes regret is simply all there is” (p. 17), and in “Sleeping with Mona Lisa,” “the light da Vinci loved” is “the blue light of ambulances at night” (p. 31). Moore writes of what brings us closer, and of those accidental encounters that trigger the emotions. Age and gravity scrape away the superficial, leaving the bare essences of what makes us human.

“Triumphs” begins with this melancholy confession: “The triumphs in his life / were so quiet, he should be ashamed” (p. 32). This opening line is typical of the poems in this book — they invite the reader immediately into the speaker’s psyche. And truly, with a line this subtle and skillful, no introduction is needed. Aren’t we all, at some point in our lives, a little ashamed of how little we have accomplished? Have the dreams of youth even approached the mundane realities we find ourselves in? For example, just staying asleep, once so easy, is now a struggle:

That the sight of the dog sleeping mattered
was a triumph
not just anyone
could understand. Or the thought
of sleep itself and its rose
pillowcase, or leaving it behind
at 4 A.M., sitting
at that dark window,
wide awake for no reason.

— p. 32

Although it starts with self-deprecation, “Triumphs” ends up showing the reader that in the end, it’s enough to still be here, like the “remaining leaves on October trees, / all glory and dissolution” (p. 33).

The poems of Invisible Strings are about more than aging and loss — many are place poems, swinging between the author’s two homes in Spoleto, Italy and St. Paul, Minnesota. It is hard to imagine two more disparate places, but Moore is equally confident in either locale. Indeed, staid, wintry Minnesota and playful, sunny Spoleto seem to mirror the two sides of Moore’s poetic personality.

In “Tuesday,” he pokes fun at the fact that his “new chestnut-colored shoes / with the red laces” seem “demure” in Italy, but in Minnesota “give off the faint whiff / of a clown gone overboard” (p. 27). However, in “The Four Stages of Love,” is this evocation of St. Paul:

Driving the December road to St. Paul

in winter sunlight,
Bill Evans on the radio. Maybe
this is actually paradise,
you said, and on we went
from there

— p. 39

The music playing and the closeness of the people in the small room of the car, juxtaposed against the harsh winter outside, gives this section its tenderness and intimacy. In addition, when Moore writes, “Driving the December road to St. Paul,” he infers that the speaker and his companion are arriving from somewhere else, perhaps Spoleto, and have experienced a sense of unexpected relief (“actually paradise”) at this winter homecoming.

The ample white space around these small, spare poems seems to echo the word ‘invisible’ from the title; Moore leaves as much out as he chooses to write down. The effect is one of never quite arriving at a destination, but being fully immersed in the journey…

Yet the “little streets of St. Paul / that lead nowhere” (“Trying to Leave St. Paul”) contain a suppressed dread, as in the lines further down: “How far away / it is possible to go from St. Paul / in a single night of raucous dreams” (p. 37). In contrast, Spoleto is like a delightfully eccentric relative: “How can you not love a country where the meter maids wear high heels?” (p. 87), a line from a long prose poem titled “My Swallows Again,” which closes the book.

This final poem, written in sentences that spread across the page and are separated by spaces, is a different style from all of the other poems in the book (short lines with regular indentations). Its tone and topic, however, are consistent with the rest. “My Swallows Again” expresses the inner and outer worlds of the poet as he describes the scenery around him, the people who populate it, and muses on aging and death. Spoleto, in spite of its vitality, is filled with old men, rain, and “my death nearby” (p. 86). The only references to youth are “stupid teenage boys” (p. 86) and the pointless act of replacing a sidewalk: “I hope they understand how short life is” (p. 86). And yet, in spite of these repeated references, the poem is punctuated with humor, as in

The old man in suit and tie sits on the park bench, leans forward in his elegant way so he won’t miss a word of what the girl with the tattoo is trying to explain to him. Even at this distance I can see he doesn’t have a clue, his happiness as complete as his confusion.

— p. 86

Some of these poems might seem facile, as in “On This Cloudy May Day:” “I keep thinking / maybe June is what I need / to make me happy ” (p. 7). However, Moore’s very short poems can and do work, as in “Gradually, That Half-Smile:” “my father so often wore as he got older / takes me on as a project ” (p. 79). The ample white space around these small, spare poems seems to echo the word “invisible” from the title; Moore leaves as much out as he chooses to write down. The effect is one of never quite arriving at a destination, but being fully immersed in the journey itself. Moore’s line, “God forbid I ever become so calm” (p. 42) from “Instead of Calm,” reminds us that even as age and death claim us, we must not give in to apathy and torpor.

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