Prose poems aren’t always easy to pull off. The best ones I have read simultaneously bend and embrace both forms; they have the poem’s hyperawareness of language and devices and prose’s steadiness, its stream-like qualities.
Emma Healey’s poetry excels in this. Her speakers are candid, smart, and approachable. She also has this wonderful ability to place you in the glass box of a poem, and gradually fill it up with metaphor until you’re steeped in it. I find myself revisiting her poems over and over to immerse myself again.
What follows are the first part and three parts from the middle of “Work Suite,” from Healey’s first and so far only collection, Begin with the End in Mind.
This poem in particular resonates with me, as it’s the kind of relationship I often have with my own work — creative or otherwise: it moves with a kind of tectonic energy, and even if I leave, it won’t not come with me. As the semester is ending, I know I’m not the only one with my eye on summer’s gleaming promise: time for things to “unfold in the glow.”
Things were a million times easier before it started
following you to your day job. You’ve learned to stop trying
to stop it; there’s that weird panopticon thing and even if
you pile obstacles in the front hallway and slip noiselessly
out the bathroom window, it always gets ahead of you.
Like you’ve got a choice.
It doesn’t have a lot of hobbies — just metaphor, sleep,
making you miserable. Public transit makes it all sweaty
and graceless and plus it brings those lunch-sized cans
of tuna every day. Plastic sporks. It chews with its mouth
open. That grin. You have to stand next to it all the time
and watch it refuse to cede its seat to pregnant women,
the elderly, junior-high-school girls on crutches. Where
is it getting all of this tuna? you don’t ask, ever. Its mystery
is essential, constant. You are never on time for anything.
It chews louder. Everyone hates you.
It doesn’t smoke but it does like to disconnect the carbon
monoxide detector and drop the batteries in the dryer, hide
your books in the freezer, replace your knee socks with
ankle socks, repel your heart with its heart. You can’t take it
out in public but it won’t not come with you. You’ve given
up making it mix CDs or lending it books you love; it just
eats them, slowly, methodically, loudly, staring straight
into your eyes. When you’re not at home it is hard at work
splitting the ground underneath your apartment — it thinks
you don’t know, it gets weird if you bring other people
home, two weeks ago you found a saved search in your
computer’s history — “build own fault line how to.” Your
floor’s growing a list, by degrees, and you’re not sure if you
should call your landlord or what so you don’t, not just yet.
Things are not yours to question, is what you know it would
say if you asked. If it wanted to leave it would leave you.
But hang on, when it works though. This happens, when
you work and it works, and then there is never a thing else.
Like, it makes you coffee before you’re even out of bed
and doesn’t text anyone else when you’re telling it about
the dream you had last night, does the dishes, opens up
all the windows and sunlight floods your stupid apartment
and things are right and so simple you can’t believe either
of you ever let it be any way else. The world around you
feels it too — when you step outside, bicycles, buses, every
dog is a bulldog and also in love with you, every person
you pass on the street is gorgeous, forgiving and endlessly
tactful and has heard of your favourite bands, wants to
offer you something you didn’t remember you wanted
until just now, today. This is how it is; when it’s like this
it’s going to be like this forever. Things unfold in the glow
of your precious attention; off-peak hours, in its quiet
and springless your work you together; a seamless elision.
There is nothing you can’t do, then, now, and just like that
you know it will never be different from this, again, ever,
of course now and finally yes.
The next morning, you wake up bleary and it’s sitting
on your legs, staring at you, solid-faced. What will today
bring? you wonder, trying to shift under its endless weight.
Hoping, not hoping.
“I threw up on your desk,” it says.
~ Emma Healey