chord box
by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers
University of Arkansas Press, $15 (paper)

For Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers, the voice box is not an instrument of personal poetic power, amplifier of desire, but a “chord box” crowded with harmonies chosen and unchosen: “a voice . . . made // by doubling.” She tells her own story with the supporting score of her music teacher’s, braiding the two together in a narrative of erotic education. Her teacher was molested by her grandfather as a girl, and then, years later, the teacher’s hand “drifts across [the poet’s] throat, shoulder, and thigh.” “Why is it,” Rogers writes, that some scenes always seem to bear repeating? These poems blur individual agency in a proliferation of passive constructions (“my figure whittled out of yours”) and surrender to the complex question of how self-expression graduates from imitation. The specialized vocabulary and notation of music making—“sonority— // a capricious code”—sometimes muffles the diversity of experience beneath. Much of the drama of the book lies in hearing the poet fine-tune her way out of this ambient music and into more strident declarations: “I said / to her, the pilot’s / daughter: cut the veil; even the sky // feels owned.” It is easy to feel owned as a young woman. Traveling alone in China, the young poet overhears a word that contains her ambivalence: “I think it is the zhu / that means concentrate; join together. // Or was it the other / one: god; master?” Without choosing, she finds herself, in her anglophone ignorance, the master of that choice.