I’m not going to lie—I found out about Cecilia Woloch precisely because I was asked to contribute to Verse of April and on top of that the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month. I had poets on my mind and spotted her work on a billboard in West L.A., the country of billboards. I’d like to say I had known of her for ages, heard of her “first,” or I was there at the start. But, nah, I just discovered her work a few weeks ago. And, how incredibly glad I am that I did.
“Postcard to I. Kaminsky from a Dream at the Edge of the Sea,” in its original form, is a prose poem. There is a precision to this piece that takes up little space, the size of a postcard, but also manages to encompass an epic sweep of time and movement, the external shift of relocation matched with the internal shift of, emotionally, coming full circle.
The narrator of the poem moves with his or her love, and there is a sense that this is not so much of a plotted and planned move as an attempt to run away to something or someplace better “leaving a country of rain for a country of apples. I hadn’t/ much time. I told my beloved to wear his bathrobe.”
It is also a doomed attempt (as most attempts to run away always are), since s/he packs her “own bags were full of salt, which made them shifty, hard to/ lift”. Like Lot’s wife, s/he needn’t look back. The figurative baggage is the literal baggage of the “country of rain”, moving with the pair to the fantasy place, “a country of apples” which will, of course, “fatten and fall”.
If I get hung up on that one word, “fall,” it is easy to read this as some sort of attempt to return to Eden, an unblemished state prior to gaining knowledge. The poem, in that way, evoked in me the emotional memory of a train trip I had taken last summer, from L.A. up the coast of California, through Oregon and on up to Seattle, traveling the “edge of the sea” through Washington state, the “country of apples.”
The video is mainly footage I shot on the train with my phone. If I am being honest, depression (a general feeling of doom compounded by a sense of nostalgia that I get whenever I stay put for too long) fueled the trip. I hoped for a reprieve, to feel a little moment of escapism in the movement of the train. Despite the fact that I had run out of running-away-type-moves at least a decade ago and realized that a vacation will never be the same as a grand exit. I wanted to get some distance from a one-sided relationship and see friends living in Seattle. But, I also wanted to see the land, and I wanted to rekindle the sense open road freedom I once had when I bounced around cities and states. The kind of escapism that stops working when the force of your life experience is no longer light enough to carry easily, bags get full of salt, shifty and heavy to lift. When you know, as fact, that the place ran to will always become the place left, and there are no more pre-fall moments of ignorance of that fact. But, that beginning, the sense of liberty that comes just from sheer physical momentum of travel, a train rocking, it compels like the deliverance to rewrite, even if only while traveling, any scripts that have become concrete.
I don’t believe that Woloch wrote a love poem to a person here, though there is a failed relationship at the heart of it. To me it ultimately becomes a love poem to land, to the “country that rose up to/ meet me [that] was steep as a mirror, the gold hook gleamed.”
Sara Paul is a writer and college English instructor living in Los Angeles. She owns a pair of happily bonded finches of mismatched breed but has yet to keep a fern alive.