Powerfully Commendable: David Appelbaum on Katie Cappello’s Perpetual Care


perpetual care

Perpetual Care, Katie Cappello, Elixir Press

Before abstinence come the rituals of excess. There is the indulgence in flesh (carne) before the long Lent. Only after is resurrection from the grave possible. What if the flesh one eats is one’s own body? What if, ‘devouring myself bit by bit,’ as Katie Cappello writes in ‘When We Get to Coachella’ in her graphic collection, ‘[t]here are fingers in my stomach/holding there. I cannot leave.’ [‘Lament for a Blood Clot’] Then the carnival is perpetual and the care becomes a testimony to dance of death. It is a danse macabre.

The special eroticism of death is vivid and arresting, and the multitude of forms a proof of the libido’s power of command. The great researchers into the human soul have found this to be true. Little of the senses escapes its enticing scrutiny. In the text, it is after Hurricane Katrina, a political nadir and a wreck of culture. Abstinence has been brought by an act of God coupled with human incompetence. The city of New Orleans, still in its Lent, looks at its watery grave and begins its business of cleanup. Cappella’s eye is keen for details of the dance, for instance, ‘the mechanized claw of the garbage truck/struggled, leaking dog out into the street.’ [‘How to Drive Through Texas’] The scene calls Heraclitus to mind, where in hell one perceives by smells. The matter of ‘how the dead become smell/settling into membranes’ occupies her mind. [‘A Changing Spell’] Impressions are as fleeting as smoke and she confesses, ‘I can’t find a dream to hold on to.’ [‘Summer Wedding Dream’] The cityscape grows apparitional. Perpetual Care is filled with ghosts, ghost stories, lovers who are ghosts. One can love the dead but who are they? They leave signs, ‘a blue ring in the tub, an empty/toilet paper roll, back mold/misted on old sponges,’ more telling evidence of an absence, and by the time we turn to take a closer look, ‘what is left of me is coming loose.’ [‘A Ghost Abandons the Haunted’]

Perhaps abstinence morphs into apocalypse Old lore returns in the form of strange, unnatural marriages. There is the girl who is wed to a snake and dies for it. Death in fact has become lovely, luscious, trying to outdo itself by seizing the realm of the inanimate—‘this room squirms/a living thing.’ [‘Room 203’] In fact, there is the constant morphing of one thing into another, in excess, suggesting that our usual demarcations—eros, thanatos, presence, absence—have been superceded by the calamitous upsurge. It remains a question that repeats in different voices, or as the voice of one lament of Cappello’s asks: ‘Was I struck, dying, in the new spring night?’ [‘Lament for White Lions’]

In such a time (now?), language too dies and comes alive, like the ‘old drunk [who] says he can change a tire in three minutes.’ [‘Hilary Street Cemetery, New Orleans’] Or come alive and dies, flat, misplaced, overused. Words from the old world, which moves ghost-like behind the yards and porches, the Grateful Dead shirt fluttering on a clothesline, the men drinking Dixie beer, like Cappello’s grandmother’s vickravatz: ‘a word like forearms/trembling on porcelain.’ [‘Inheritance’] The language is beautiful the way it struts across the line, showing itself off, against all odds a survivor. Perhaps that is what it takes to make poetry. It is powerfully commendable, a hammer:

And you are a hammer knocking on the gate, the tongue
swinging joyfully in the cave of a bell. [‘Room 203’]

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