by Rosalinda Monroy
Fossils in the Making, Kristin George Bagdanov, Black Ocean Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2019, 96 pages, $14.95 paperback, www.blackocean.org.
BODIES ARE THE focal point of Kristin Bagdanov's debut poetry collection, Fossils in the Making. In it, she explores not just the human body, but animal bodies, non-sentient bodies, bodies of water, and earth bodies (landforms). A single poem prefaces the text, establishing a baseline that leaves little room for ambivalence:
The privilege of having / to imagine // of can't even imagining
The dream of children but also the fear
That nothing is / disposable because nothing can be
(from "Lines Written After Crisis," page 3)
Written in medias res, "Lines Written After Crisis" situates the reader directly in the action—a world already/always in crisis. Whether the speaker's discontent is shaped by a crisis of embodiment, motherhood, mortality, fluctuating relations and conditions, or trepidation about our consumption of our own future, we are suspended in an ever-expanding anxiety and dread. It is an opening that foreshadows a collection of poems that, through an exhaustive and repetitive field of inquiry, deliberately poses more questions than it gives answers. One constant however, is Bagdanov's bottomless excavation of creation and destruction through a rigorously intellectual and structurally complex experimentation with language and meaning making.
Scattered throughout the book are bodies in every state of metamorphosis—from "recomposing" bodies and "decomposing" bodies, to bodies in "migration," "circulation" and "disintegration." Curiously, the book also unfolds as a trisected body, each subsequent section echoing its previous counterpart. For example, PROOFS examines the gap between our world and our physical forms, and attempts to resolve the paradoxical nature of being stuck in a body that cannot unsee itself as separate from itself: "…Every body frustrates desire / by loving what's outside its skin," ("Prey"). "Wagers," an eleven-page poem that is a repetition of lines, words, and sounds, is constructed from the unresolved 'proofs' of the previous section. However, unlike the poems in PROOFS, in "Wagers" there is an undercurrent of urgency throughout, invoking a sense of desperation. Or is it despair? Something has been lost. Hope? Innocence? The will to live?
I hear bodies in migration
circulation & accumulation
the ache of others
body be body but what else is there?
Once I was given again what
I tried to want.
Once I tried
to want to die
I filled my bones with this
I waded out in the lake
but it would not take
And finally, the last section REMAINS reads as the detritus of all previously conveyed ideas—it derives bits and pieces of words and themes from other poems and repurposes them. A wonderful example of what I imagine as an obsessed speaker's recording and cataloging of recycled thoughtforms can be found in "sediment / sentient":
Loon in a pond loon in a puddle of sediment
sentience is the wager
we all bet
our value, the commodity body
we must share we must
Because, alas, despite the speaker's frayed efforts to measure and quantify impending disaster, what 'remains' is not a sense of attainment, but that of worn resignation.
In summation, Fossils in the Making is an account of our failure to come to terms with our bodies as both a thing of beauty and a thing of destruction. The discordance we experience upon realizing that our bodies have the capacity to consume, pollute, exploit and destroy so many other bodies, while also having the capacity to feel sadness, desire, awe, and even love for those same bodies, is an idea the speaker grapples with repeatedly in this text. Yet in the end, quite satisfyingly, Bagdanov imparts no resolution, "hello? // lo /// o" are the final words of this collection (from "echo / o"). Because are there ever really any resolutions in such matters? Everything that exists, both living and unliving, is in the process of making and unmaking in every moment: "But how can I know my bones from the others? / Bone pile, bone dust. I must stack the fragments / into whole.…" (from "fossils / making").
Rosalinda Monroy is Assistant Editor at Poetry Flash. She lives in Oakland, California.