Of Their Shadows Deep

by Amanda Walker profile

Semi-Autobiographical
2022

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ParserComp 2022: Of Their Shadows Deep, August 4, 2022
by kaemi
Related reviews: ParserComp 2022

So fragile our lives we fear both sides of the phrase: lives, what makes them ours. Inexorably receding from this ineffable vibrancy contingency lilypadding these cascade whorls haunts us with all the beauties we will sink beneath the see, because not only will it all go on without us, but also, sometimes, so do we, must we inevitably, so composed are we of irreplaceable combinations shared mutually across memories, fracturing in silences we cannot resing. Thence the energy quivering the need to maintain our shared particulars, communicative particulates of the streaming coherence, without which echoes bleed to drones: “When did the loss begin? “Iridescent” was the first lost word, but it was so light, so transparent, that its loss went unnoticed. Then “eviscerate” was torn away from her mind, leaving a pinprick hole, yet it happened secretly, quietly. The vast store of words pushed at the ragged edges of the hole and widened it, and the trickle of lost words became a flow: serendipity, ephemeral, labyrinth, tranquility.” Placing your hand into the stream, trying to catch every concept, dam up and derive, hold the lifegiving babbling “always rushing from her eyes, through the woods, spilling into the creek, so much departure.” If you no longer recognize this place we shared, then how should I? Estranger in an estranged land, sifting through the senses for the assemblance.

The impetus to reclaim, reassert shape from the “shards and fragments” animates a prose which helixes concrete denotations into an emotively synesthetic paresthesia radiating occlusions: “Birds call. They flash bright against the naked branches: cardinal screams red; goldfinch blazes sun.” The lushness of the descriptions flicker with their spilling from delimits, a dizzying motion that slips through the lines you have palmed: “A spill of icemelt trickles over the ledge of rock into a small pool which flows into a stream that runs, runs, runs down and away from the gray rock, the velvet moss. This rock wall weeps water all year, a rivulet that never stops talking as it splashes over the moss, the rough stone, always leaving, seeking the creek below.” You cannot hold fast the flux, thence the bittersweet beauty of attachment: the dignity of failing for just long enough to fulfil a life, make it ours. Fear of the “tiered waterfall that sings in its own language” compels the pursuit of names, certainties by which we can construct the conversations that cohere whom we cherish.

So goes our protagonist wrestling with riddles to wreathe them with recognition. From each spilling sense, you can wrest back concrete poetry, the shapes the words signify. Dozens of scraps of paper whose resemblances can reassemble the meaning: “The piece of paper shimmers and swells, its words moving. They rearrange and leap from your hands in a swift, muscular movement, forming a cat. It sits with its back to you, tail flicking.” The world keeps weaving in and out, abstractions which have now the same strength as the tangible, an interplay that is inherently unstable: “You raise the axe, its sharp words gleaming, and smash it into the white door, splintering it. The pieces of the door disintegrate, the words that held it together fading, falling apart, disappearing.”

The desire to loop back together these disparate elements before their too lateness overtakes their valences leads us to collect all our little longings, isolated significations we must recombine to bring heart back to where the home is. By collecting these fragments to reconstruct the necklace which totems our bond, this final puzzle advances a magnitude, requiring us not solely to solve a riddle by shaping the words but also to assemble the words together, guess what now visibly possibility they imply, what connections we can thread through them, those whom we stored in this shape forever, or whatever forever must mean for us: “Your mother, old and gray and full of sleep and nodding by the fire, deep shadows in her eyes. She’s holding a book she can no longer read.” Maybe you can compile all the yesterdays into enough, but it always seems one day away. If we could only hold still the shapes long enough for recognition to spark the embers to warm one more night! “She sees the necklace you wear and her eyes light up, recognizing her lost words. She puts her hand over the heart on your chest and pushes, and you gasp as its edges cut into you, as the heart burns into you. The words are yours because she gave them to you, taught you to love them. You will always carry them in your hopeful, fragile heart; but they are lost to her forever. / You kneel in front of her and put your head in her lap as you used to when you were a child, when the loss was too big to comprehend. / She bends over and strokes your hair and you see a single word, the last of a once-great library, flickering behind her eyes. You hear it fluttering, frightened and alone in the empty rooms, avoiding the blaze consuming the bookshelves. And she lets it go, breathing it out softly against your face where it blows apart and lands like glitter, like snow, like tears against your cheeks: / love.” A word which endures in all of us that you have helped to build.

The delicate melancholy, the clever cohesiveness of every element, the layered conceptual complexity, the munificent playfulness that lightens the austere lodestar to polychromatism, the curlicue vividness of the language, the pitch perfect precision of the ludic elaboration, the exuberant bittersweetness, the gregarious elegance, the baroquely intricate intonation of intent that dapples so much warmth within so much snow, should all come as no surprise in a work signed Amanda Walker, whose palpitationally evocative works have garnered so much praise in so short a time: fourth place in IFComp 2021, second place in Text Adventure Literacy Jam 2022, Best in Show in Spring Thing 2022, and, one has an inkling, perhaps a strong showing in ParserComp 2022. Rarely does the parser feel so fleet that it filigrees invisibly into the poetry, but Of Their Shadows Deep parallels our pursuit, pearling its symbols preciously.