174.1: Matthew Hittinger:: Cross Bucket Candle Knife
9 June 2014
I used to pore over anatomy books, memorizing the names of muscles and tendons. From the anatomist's perspective, the human body resembles a complex machine: hinges, extensors, flexors. I think of this selection from Matthew Hittinger as a series of anatomies, lexical cross-sections that reveal surprising and profound relationships between body parts, objects, and words. Consider the first lines of "Cross Bucket Handle Knife" (I.i.): "out of the flower grow / shoulders ulna carpal." An apparent confusion of physiology prompts a rethinking of ourselves—the stem with shoulder, metacarpal with twig. Or take a later manifestation of this rethinking, when in II.ii the cladistic association of "condor dinosaur" leads us, eventually, to "piece curio old / desk drawers rail / ties ladder rung." The final line suggests the popular (and inaccurate) image of evolution as a ladder that moves upward until you reach, at the very top, homo sapiens sapiens. But the presence of pieces, curios, and old desk drawers complicates this image, suggesting that we don't simply move upward and onward as a specie. Instead, we inherited these organs and bones like a senior inherits junk during a college career: piecemeal, over time, often without the slightest idea where the curios have come from. Ultimately, Hittinger's poems don't just remind me of poring over anatomy books; they remind me of the strange effects that attend long periods of focus. Look long enough and the object slips, becomes something else. The closed hand might be an armadillo, the arm a walking stick. These anatomies are archeological in Olson's sense of the word, poems to read when deciding how to direct this fabulous machine of ours.