Mary Ruefle is a poet, but like many poets who have reached the Promised Land (a.k.a. “Publication Upon Submission”), she also butters her bread with essays. Her collection called My Private Property is mostly mini-essays. Flash essays? I’m not sure if they have a name yet. I do know this, the lines are double spaced, the font is large, and the page total is 103. (The cost is $25 for the hardcover, or about 25 cents a page.)
Of course, poetic essays are to varying degrees more poetic or more prosaic. With few exceptions, these are short. Here’s an example:
When I was young, a fortune teller told me that an old woman who wanted to die had accidentally become lodged in my body. Slowly, over time, and taking great care in following esoteric instructions, including lavender baths and the ritual burial of keys in the backyard, I rid myself of her presence. Now I am an old woman who wants to die and lodge inside me is a young woman dying to live; I work on her.
Pithy, no? And rewarding in its way, at least to elderly sorts, who can identify with young women and men lodged inside themselves, dying to live. “I work on her” (or “him”) seems to be Solomon-like, too. There’s no choice but to get to work on them, after all.
Also included are a series of untitled shorts on the colors of sadness. I give you the first and most obvious color in the series: Blue.
Blue sadness is sweetness cut into strips with scissors and then into little pieces by a knife, it is the sadness of reverie and nostalgia: it may be, for example, the memory of a happiness that is now only a memory, it has receded into a niche that cannot be dusted for it is beyond your reach; distinct and dusty, blue sadness lies in your inability to dust it, it is as unreachable as the sky, it is a fact reflecting the sadness of all facts. Blue sadness is that which you wish to forget, but cannot, as when on a bus one suddenly pictures with absolute clarity a ball of dust in a closet, such an odd, unsharable thought that one blushes, a deep rose spreading over the blue fact of sadness, creating a situation that can only be compared to a temple, which exists, but to visit it one would have to travel two thousand miles on snowshoes and by dogsled, five hundred by horseback and another five hundred by boat, with a thousand by rail.
Almost a stream of consciousness, these, but they don’t work as well as the titled shorties surrounding them. Still, an exercise in imagining concrete items that “are” metaphoric examples of colors can’t hurt, gray matter-wise. (And yes, gray is included in the series.)
Did I like it as well as her the other essay collection of hers read earlier this year, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures? I did not. But that’s beside the point. When you bother with a book start to finish, the point is to find something you DO like, such as that young man I forgot about — the one lodged inside me, dying to live forever.