Letters Through Glass, Reviewed by Alec Niedenthal

Letters Through GlassLetters Through Glass
By Alexis Vergalla
Finishing Line Press; 1ST edition (2009)
ISBN-10: 1599243873
ISBN-13: 978-1599243870

Reviewed by Alec Niedenthal

Letters Through Glass resurrects letters you might have for(e)gotten. It is a chapbook of letters.

Recall that letters through glass cannot communicate.

The sender must break the glass, then send the letters, but by then the violence will have been done, the letters sent.

Letters Through Glass will ask, Which letters are not through glass?

Letters Through Glass begins with “Letter to Vallejo.”

The note to Vallejo is one of mourning. A letter to the dead:

Vallejo  how am I here
and how is it
that I am not   in Peru
singing in Spanish and preparing ceviche?

And later on:

and how is it
you have no answers for me,
only    rainy afternoons in Paris
where you died;
where you never died?

We learn that the speaker asks for the impossible: an answer, a letter in return. Or perhaps, more likely, “Letter to Vallejo” is a letter addressed to no one, en route to nowhere; likely, this letter simply is, unmoving, never transmitted, or rather transmitted to nowhere but the space of its death (of its subject’s death, which is, consequently, its own, radically the same).

The letter does not meet its addressee. Its path is broken by some thing, an obstruction, a place where it suffers, dies incessantly, misrecognized: glass. The letter does not meet its addressee because there isn’t, never has been, a “name” for it to reach, a place of delivery, a chance for its survival.

Letters Through Glass will not survive what happens when the glass breaks.

I am reminded of Paul Auster’s novella City of Glass, of its winding dialogues, its psychologies high on Lacan, its dead or dying speech, the force of the failure it describes but cannot name.

I am also reminded of this passage from William G(l)ass’s The Tunnel:

A book, I wrote, is like a deck of windows: each page perceives a world and tells a fortune; each page at least faintly reflects the face of its reader, and hands down a judgment; each page is made of mind, and it is that same mind that reflects a world within, and it is the same mind that stands translucently between perception and reflection, uniting and dividing, double dealing.

The Tunnel is probably my second favorite book by William Gass.

In “Issues of Translation,” we learn how to translate a letter when you do not know the language. How to translate a letter when you do not know the addressee.

The answer is you cannot.

Lately, I am discovering
inconsistency in translation.
Spaces   instead of punctuation
phrases that seem a bit   off
but how am I to know?

We experience the longing for a means to express. We long for a re-living of the experience itself. “Months ago you and I / lit matches and watched the wind / blow them out   eventually.”

We hear the language we name “ours”: “I only know this language.” We hear the language gone unsaid, spoken now in silence, only to emerge again as what we have heard before in a “present always already past.”

We have a catalog of the everyday: “I have, thus far, / three switch plates  a soda can  a melted candle.” The sender longs for the reterritorialization, so to speak, of the object, of what has been lost to a flawed memory, a poem: “Endless letters and letters / signed / yours” (italics mine).

Lost to a poem, reclaimed by the “voice from elsewhere,” the “other voice” from nowhere at all, sent in haste to no one, to nothing, again—with each letter never sent another sigh of paper falling flat against a newly erected pane of glass. But it is the same pane of glass. Absolutely the same.

Some of the letters in Letters Through Glass converse with other letters, though it is all the same letter; it is all one letter; there is no other letter. The letter you spy on the “other side,” the “other letter,” is a reflected image of the letter you are holding in your hand. The reflected hand is your own. There is one letter, a single hand.

The addressee of “Letters” is a lover overseas and at war, whereas the sender teaches, and presumably writes, literature. The latter imagines him- or herself taking up the violence, the firepower, of the lover:

There are days I almost think
I could do it too   I could stand
with a gun in my hands   and rock
back with the recoil

But “I record :: I do nothing.” You begin to draw a parallel between the violence of taking a life and the violence of recording, of taking down, of placing in between time and counter-time. Both nihilistic, both to “do nothing,” both entering radical ambiguity. Both infinite. Only one, possibly, perhaps, ignores the other’s call (to suffer in the other’s name, or lack of the same) and the other heeds it.

You: no one, no-body; let us say the trace or remembrance of a body.

You: who are you? I wish I could remember your address, your name: unpronounceable, incessantly being pronounced. I would send you a letter. I would return your call.

I am simply here, scrawling

This afternoon, it smelled of autumn for the first time

asking How hot is it? Must be brutal, I can’t

even imagine You must tell me everything

I am scrawling, madly; I am murdering, divinely. “And language fails me,” and it will, always.

“In the Kitchen” confronts the experience of cleaning a kitchen, engulfs it, hurls it like a bullet. “A girl thinks feminine thoughts, is domestic in her inclinations, / and is fundamentally gentle in her relation to others.” I can feel your loss. I know how it feels to have lost the will to destroy. The will to—and it could be gently, it could be domestically—destroy the other, “others,” to save the other. You have succumbed to erasure, to the obscurity of a day that only happens in the dark. I would have warned against it.

While I’ve been writing this, I’ve told her that I don’t like the way we have sex. She is in the bedroom; I can hear her crying. I was thinking of you.

“The Slow,” the last letter, undying, without end, a recursion of what has never taken place: “We no longer write real letters.” I’m obsessed with this line in particular. What could it mean? Have we ever written real letters? What do we write instead? “You are too tired and I use my words / for other things.” For what do I use my words? Tell me. You can whisper. Speak clearly.

“Some day you will read this / and it will be my letter.” Perhaps now we are no longer writing letters; we are writing poems. Or rather, we may begin to write poems. A beginning that never begins, the day of the poem forever postponed. Some day.

I will write you a letter, some day.



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