Transformer by Kathleen Winter is the 2019 selection by Maggie Smith for The Word Works Hilary Tham Capital Collection. “The world of Transformer is one where survival requires transformation,” wrote Smith.
MANIACS IN FASHIONABLE HIGH TOPS
“South Huntington Apartments,” the first poem of the book finds an unnamed “you” hiding behind a closet door while some male stalker comes down the cellar steps to the laundry room.
…Is it possible he was frightened
he might kill you? You could see his shoes through the strip
between hinges, high-tops that looked innocent even
when he kicked you. …
The Dresser suspects the person hiding has been accosted by this maniac before and that another time was when the kicking was done.
at green laces wrapped over his ankles.
Horses drown in the molasses time
that floods a shadow-tinted room.
Until his fear spins him around
and up the cement stairs…
What is clear is that time has slowed down to stop what? [his wild] horse impulses such that he becomes afraid and retreats. This gives his victim time to transform this Hitchcockian story and flee.
…Three flights up
he sprints but you just need to gain one floor to leave.
You just need one story
and it isn’t his.
LITTLE LAMBS AND GLUTTONS
Children are also not safe in the Winter’s world:
Edgar licked my desk. Did you do something
to make him lick your desk?
I’m attached to my disconnection,
fall in love with a fraction.
I want all these lambs
to escape being mutton.
Clumps of pale petals
on gray angled branches.
Thousands of lambs, each pear bough
Who is Edgar? Is he also learning fractions? Does he go outside to hear his victim sing a jump rope song that worries about lambs becoming tough meat?
His tongue licked my desk
I can see the spit glisten.
Asparagus comes up again
at this season, phallic,
aphrodisiac, perennially pleasing.
Under a tree, enjoy beyond
reason with the person (or persons)
whose desk you have chosen.
The Dresser sees that the victim who has now matured (transformed) in a later spring where asparagus grows once again now understands that Edgar’s craziness was an act of sexual aggression.
WHAT IS NOT RHETORIC
Men don’t fare well in this hot potato collection. Take “Henry VIII.”
Always a bridegroom,
never the bride to suffice.
When you’re picking them on the basis of paintings,
mistakes will be made.
I’d hope for someone with a sense of humor
but humors were all they had.
I’d hoped for a princess who spoke my language
but the high-class bachelorettes
were Spanish, Flemish, French.
For God’s sake, why can’t men birth the children?
Winter is having a good time making fun of this murderous king. She alters a feminine cliché—always a bride’s maid, never the bride—to heap faux pity on Henry. She allows him to wave away his mistakes based on the preposterous notion that like today’s online dating where photographs are shown, that he sees paintings of his future brides. Then the poet puns on the word humor which in Henry VIII’s day meant the substances black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm making up the human body. Anachronistically, Winter refers to the king’s possible brides as bachelorettes and settles with the king questioning in God’s name why can’t men birth the children? A slap in the face of men too funny to be even considered rhetoric.
Needless to say, the poem, with all its delicious sounding words, ends with a head rolling except the language mimics modern expression: “Swipe left to cut off a head.”
WHAT IS NOT A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND
One of the most difficult poems of the collection is the unpunctuated poem that gives the book its name. “Transformer” starts easily enough but maybe this is a deception since the dog might not just be a pet.
dog hair turns up
everywhere in this magnetic
collection but the dog is himself
underhand & not reading anything
except my expression which he studies better
than my lover ever
important to mark the pupils
the lips when your dinner
depends on it
There are three stanzas and the last two (shown below in their entirety) move in large leaps that are too elusive to easily understand. However, science figures largely and grounds what turns out to be an orchestrated transformation (solid to fluid).
depend on it music
is blood circulating
half the time unremarked through
our environs till it stops the music stopped
is stucco silence un-dripping un-undulating not
even sinking so movelessly still but still
in the blood a taste a flower a colorless color
diamonds aspire to the ice cube
my dog is obsessed with his canines facet it fracture it make
a brash satisfaction a liquid obliteration
of its solid rectangular
object to its geometry to edges sharp & regular must render it fluid to
lunar to ocean to something too elusive ever again to (quite) be hard
The question is what does the ice cube represent? Is it a metaphor for the owner of the dog or that person’s heart since there is so much blood. Stucco, something used in finishing and decorating houses, is made of dehydrated lime, powdered marble and glue. Because it is still (un-dripping un-undulating not /even sinking) and is like the diamond, stucco and the diamond serve as a contrasts to the ice cube. The Dresser wonders if she should think that the stucco/house and diamond are not “a girl’s best friend.” Even the dog seems a bit menacing in his obsession with “his canines,” those pointed teeth.
There is a lot to think about in Kathleen Winter’s Transformer. She is taking back the night from bad dreams and bogey men. She is taking back the day from all other horrors that afflict women and girls.
Thanks to Hal Greenwald for reading and discussing Transformer with the Dresser.