Review: Try a Little Time Travel by Natalie Lyalin

April 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Chapbook, Natalie Lyalin, Ugly Duckling Presse, http://www.uglyducklingpresse.org, $10 

Bound with a single string and a hand-tied knot, the 16 short poems of Try a Little Time Travel are much heavier than they look.

In Natalie Lyalin’s second chapbook, she deals with the knots that time makes permanent: the loss of a father (“I Had This Hair When My Dad Was Alive”); the disappointment of children (“All the Missing Children Go to Florida,” “To All My Babies”); the burden of ghosts  (“Many Many Years Later,” “Get Out of Here, Ghost”); environmental ruin (“Oregon Is All Water”).

But, as the title suggests, she also commands her unnamed “you” to ignore the boundaries of time: “try it a bit, instead of sexing / One night. Close your eyes / And think, Grandmother, / I’m coming to you live!” To return to the present, she says just pull out a strand of hair: “This is your tether for returning.”

Lyalin’s lovely world makes sense. Though time “crushes things,” it’s still physically lighter than our bodies, and if our memories and dreams can escape our bodies, then they can certainly escape time.

For the squeamish would-be time traveller, Lyalin offers her collection as a guided tour. Instead of page numbers, she marks all the right-hand pages with FUTURE) and the left-hand ones with (PAST, suggesting that reading a poem a second time is time travel too, and time travel always inspires a new interpretation.

But she’s not a nihilist or prone to empty whimsy, either. She doesn’t ignore the fact that, “here / You are, lounging while the whole / World battles an epidemic.” Interpretation is helpless against that fact.

And then there’s the tug of that heavy string of hair.

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