by Lindsay Lusby
dancing girl press & studio (chapbook)
reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke
In many ways, Lindsay Lusby’s chapbook reiterates the themes of every poet—loss, recovery, the perplexity of navigating the adult world. But Imago, in the concisest of ways, defies a typically cliché approach to these matters through weird and compelling symbolism; on the surface level, the collection is about a girl and her pet eggplant. The reader enters Lusby’s work knowing, and taking as a given, that “The girl and her eggplant / would not be parted” (1), with only a brief epigraph on etymology and psychoanalysis to alert them of the deeps ahead, not to mention the strange realization that they, too, would not be parted from this anthropomorphized vegetable.
In the interstices of this work (created in large part by the poet’s choice to number certain poems as “1 ½,” “3 ¾,” etc.), it becomes apparent that the eggplant is a stand-in for the girl’s lost mother, who “did not leave a note / or a casserole” (2 ½), but did leave the wise eggplant. Though the girl’s eyes “stray in the produce section / to summer squash, zucchini” (2), we come to understand that this eggplant is different, special, maternal. It teaches the girl life lessons — how we all must return to “the great compost bucket” (3 ½) in the end, how to deal with rejection in the face of competition (“The trick is / firmness. ripeness.” [4 ½])—as she decides to become a carnivore and explains what winter is to the charmingly naïve plant. Strangely, the reader understands and accepts the love of the vegetable. This is especially true when the time comes for the girl to learn about metamorphosis, or (the reader intuits) her own coming of age. The eggplant consoles her as she imagines “bones, muscles, organs boiling down / to nothing but soupy potential, frothing under her skin / and reforming” (7), tells her riddles and stories as she “zips herself inside an aubergine / sleeping bag” (8 ½), withering away all the while as the “girl-thing” grows to maturity. It is oddly moving, maybe even heartbreaking.
Even if one were to dismiss the conceit of Imago (or interpret it more literally), the chapbook would resonate courtesy of the very elegance of the lines within. Refreshingly sparse and thoughtfully arranged, Lusby’s language is what transmutes absurdity into emotion here (consider, for instance, “It dreams in degrees / of lightness and heat” [9 ½], or “When she grows up, she wants to be / a series of continuous atomic explosions / bright as hydrogen” ). Sense is abandoned for the sensory; logic abandoned for mystery. In other words, by Lusby’s strange machinations, a reader can’t help but look at vegetables a bit differently for a spell.
Kenna O’Rourke is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in The Pocket Guide, the Philos Adelphos Irrealis chapbook, and Penn’s Filament and 34th Street magazines. She is an editorial assistant for Jacket2, an enthusiastic employee of the Kelly Writers House, and an occasional blogger and jewelry-and-sewn-object-maker.