Body of Work by Tina Cane ff. In this evocative work, Tina explores a vast range of topics, from concrete vignettes depicting the poverty of her Chinese immigrant grandparents to a cosmic perspective on motherhood. In the first section, REALITY SERIES, we are introduced to the theme of the passage of time as the poet, apparently back in New York after an absence, sees a familiar skateboarder “on the same oldschool/ skateboard as ever” still around, not as changed as one might expect. Then she sees her own first rebellious gray hair. Poems memorialize her mother piercing her ears and a fire in her bedroom. We see her Chinese grandfather toting home a television set, still in the box, but obliging the family to watch the old set where everything is green because it hasn’t yet completely worn out. Life Hacks offers some great suggestions (before you discard a post-it note, use it to clean out the crumbs on your keyboard). All of this section leads to one place: her father’s grave at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Here is the other pole of her identity.
In the section, (MY) AMERICAN JOURNAL, Tina’s thought evolves; she works toward a Whitmanesque view of America and her place in it. Though she refers to this journal as her continuum, she has trouble understanding the brutal, embittering life her grandmother experienced. “I grasp truth like I cup fog.” She doesn’t hear America singing exactly, but she does see it as a reality show.
I grow into myself mixed product of multitudes glorious bastardization for amberwaves of grain and footprints on the moon are particulars portrayed as proof of a manifest dream which counts me.
The last section is called WORK., all kinds of work from writing poetry (the first poem in this section refers to Anna Akhmatova’s promise that she could encapsulate in words the horror Russia had become) to childbirth and motherhood to driving a cab.
Night of my mouth
dry with stardust
light of my children
The poem about the cabby is called Hack, which harks back to Life Hacks in the first section. But this time we are back at the death of her father who left very little material legacy but a wealth of the other kind, who ripped open his Christmas presents saying, “An embarrassment of riches.”
There is much that is beautiful in the collection. What stays with me is the poem called YOUNGEST SON. Having learned from his mother that he is formed from stardust, this young boy imagines he must have been flying among the stars before he was born. He says, “I fell like a raindrop into your mouth.” It’s worth the book to see what Tina does with that image.