Let’s Not Live on Earth, by Sarah Blake. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2018.
Often when entering a book of poems, I start with the table of contents as a way to get a feeling of the book’s arc, what might be repeated, themes returned to. When I began to read Sarah Blake’s collection, I instead went straight from the title, Let’s Not Live on Earth, to the first poem, “Suicide Prevention,” which views death through many lenses, as when the speaker’s young son moves from creating an imaginary friend to announcing that he’s dead:
“He’s a ghost.
He misses his ghost family.
Something wrong because they’re inside
the wall but he can’t get through.
Then he walks into the wall to show me.
Then a ghost ladybug shows up who can get
through the wall, and he saves everyone.
My son bends down to hug a family
of very small ghosts.”
Later in the poem, the speaker lists different ways of dying and wonders if she should tell her son “how you keep hearing for a few minutes / after you die? How I’d like him to play me / a nice song and repeat the he loves me.” She continues:
“How he better tell me first
if he wants to take his life because
I would understand that.
I’ve understood that for a long time.”
The poem gives a chilling perspective on not living on Earth. I think it’s that acknowledgment of darkness that drew me into the poems, and the poet’s tone–both wry and unflinching. She pulls no punches and yet it’s not all bleak. Consider these lines from the poem “The E-Ray Is a Gun:”
“So now my son carries around a plastic Fisher-Price golf bag and calls it his
e-ray, for evolution ray, and points it at us, KSHH.
My husband, Batman, gets his hand on the e-ray, changes the setting, and
uses it to turn my son into a human. And he cries.
He’s acting, but it’s good, in that it’s sad. So my husband changes him back
and my son dances around the kitchen.”
If there’s a stark recognition of humanity and some discomfort with it, Blake expertly embodies it in her poems twenty-six-poem sequence “Monsters.” The monsters are sea monsters or chimeras, zombies, vampires, werewolves, and the monster under the bed:
“The monster under my bed
doesn’t come out anymore.”
I grew up and he got old.
His teeth fell out.”
In the next poem, the reader is invited to consider the monster as self: “You’re so utterly human / That transformation takes on / Qualities of monsterhood.” Later in the sequence, Blake twists this monster-self relationship:
“You are hiding under the bed
in a monster’s bedroom.
How the tables have turned!
What will you do first?”
I was captivated by the intersection of motherhood, self, and humanity—including the monsters. Remember when I was connecting not living on earth with death in the first poem? Shortly past the halfway point, the book embarks on a long poem called “Starship.” When I say long, I mean fifty pages—a book within a book. Each page consists of two poems, or scenes, that lead the reader on a journey through relationships, time travel, and the stars. Blake’s style in this collection is narrative—a stance I admire because I think it’s hard to do without drifting into prose. And “Starship” is narrative at its epic best, its story line opening questions of desire, abandonment, choice. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything about the last line–but if you read the book, let me know and we’ll talk!