Compact Disc with Book
Winner of Tupelo Press’s
Snowbound Chapbook Award
Selected by Dana Levin
Stacey Waite’s the lake has no saint is a study in grief — a work of poetic archaeology that traces the artifacts of the past into the relationships of the present.
Embedded in a powerfully modulated sequence addressing a “you” who shifts in location and identity, many of these poems feel like forms of request, imploring. The speaker’s androgynous self-awareness — and wary attention to the gendered assumptions elicited by bodies — disclose in each poem a recognizable but disorienting (and
the lake has no saint will unsettle a reader’s sense of the certainty and stability of gender, as grammar and phrasing are also disrupted and blurred, often requiring us to read closely to hear where one sentence ends as another begins. Yet despite its formal and thematic iconoclasm, this is a book that clearly elucidates a story both heart-rending and ultimately — in its vatic honesty — triumphant.
when i do not want to say anything about the bridges
or about the land of sweet water where my mother
cannot bear the shadows of light fixtures, she
cannot bear the suburban quiet. her neighbor
sets raccoon traps beside the aspen tree,
which has been cut back away from windows.
there is little to say of the ocean which she cannot
feel. i am not always sorry to return.
sometimes i imagine myself to the courtyard
of my high school. everyone is named “jodie”
or “rachel.” the boys smoke around the flagpole
with their milk cartons and long hair. this is a
town with diners. no ravens, no steeples,
no hard rains. you wouldn’t have liked it
though you wouldn’t have known you didn’t.
you cannot put your feet in the ocean without
money. you cannot learn or breathe without
money. you cannot learn or breathe with
money—breathe without trains, without
becoming a mistress back in the horse trails
where the cut machines were sometimes kept.
when you are young there is no way of telling
yet your father suspects something about your walk, about the notes you write to his secretary, lori. i love you
you say take me to the beach again
you say because you are in fourth grade, because your father is in love with his nurse and not your mother who cannot bear to ease the dialysis needles in. she cannot bear anger or the color of dusk. there is the waiting for someone else to die
your father says the transplant wasn’t much
he says the first thing he does with his kidneys is piss on the operating table
he says laughing. and you are laughing too. you are thinking about the tree fort your father had torn down. you do not think his piss is funny. somewhere someone died
you think to save him
. when you imagine somewhere someone died, he is always a good man, someone who shouldn’t have
you think, though you would never say—just about your walk: you did not fall in love with the secretary though once you took to smelling her hair and offering your air to the dry sand between her fingers.
when the chalk of androgyny
there was always something about the public bathroom doors, always the chalk of androgyny sticking in my throat as i’d walk towards the women’s room with my mother. somehow i knew she wasn’t bothered by the stick figure triangle skirt that indicated the path we were to take, the ways we were to interpret our bodies. but my mother and i do not have the same body. my mother does not read the doors at all; she is automatic in her automatic body. she tugs me in by my small arms and leads me to the stall. often, i have trouble urinating. i ask my mother to sing so no one will hear my body and she does. “i’m leavin’ on a jetplane, don’t know when i’ll be back again ... leavin’ on a jetplane, don’t know when i’ll be back again.”
Syntax — the arrangement of words in a sentence, the arrangement of rules in a system — is exactly how the mind linguistically organizes its self-expression. This is lake’s genius (and Ashbery’s, too, though he uses it to very different effect): to take innocuous syntactical phrasing and change the players mid-sentence — to get around English’s pronominal either/or by creating a syntactical both/and.
—Dana Levin, The Los Angeles Review of Books
the lake has no saint pulls most of its strength from relationships, so when Waite’s language gets slippery, or wriggles out of perfect coherence, it is because relationships—even without the speaker’s autonomous piecing together of a gender identity—are slippery, wriggling, incoherent things.
—PJ Gallo, Coldfront Magazine
Waite’s voice in this collection is characteristically unwavering in tone: driven, plaintive, daring. One might imagine this steadiness tiresome, but the opposite is true, given the poet’s Woolf-like switchbacking between outward description and the mind’s reflections.
—Erin M. Bertram, Rain Taxi
Waite’s poetic gift lies in the choice of details for each poem—an ability to put a finger on a near-synesthetic instant of perception and let that little detail break your heart with hardly an overt expression of emotion.
—Jocelyn Heath, Lambda Literary