A Cure for Dread:
Sleep in a Strange House by Jessica Purdy
“You see yourself on the highway / a tiny dot from camera drone flyover,” writes Jessica Purdy, one of many dislocating shifts in perspective which occur throughout her collection “Sleep in a Strange House,” just out from Nixes Mate Books. As we work our way through the thirty-eight poems within, we take on multiple points of view: We become watchers of dreamers. We, ourselves, dream. We observe children in school. We are on the roadside. We find ourselves among friends become strangers and among strangers who barge into our homes and become intimates.
“The odds of being injured / are the same as the impossibility of belonging,” Purdy states. These are not poems to turn to for comfort, unless, like me, you draw your comfort from the musicality of dislocation, from the consciousness-altering elixir of the dream world. People around us are not who they seem. They aren’t even anyone we know. In her opening poem “Architect,” Purdy writes:
Everyone I know I have put in a room.
They each have their own with a label on the door (…)
When I find a staircase I didn’t build, I am surprised.
Then I find more people—ones I’ve never met—
Yet even in her bafflement, Purdy serves as an articulate witness for these unanticipated intruders and their strange antics, these people who push lawnmowers into her home, who get dismembered in car crashes and thread themselves back together, who get killed by meteors, who wake up, heart pounding, and check on their sleeping children. We recognize ourselves in their insomniac strangeness, in their stunned disbelief at finding themselves where they do. “This is my home now; the one with hairs in the sink, / a build-up of skin cells, spit, and passive / aggression, love, smiles…” Like Purdy’s narrator, we, too, followed our passions. We fell in love. We did ordinary everyday things like go to sleep and ended up in strange and threatening places.
Despite this strangeness, we are not passive. Purdy’s poems brim with questions that echo our own restless minds:
In what room of the soul do moments go?
Are you seeing hallways or open space?
What is this acute sense of being?
I wonder if I’ve gone too far. How will I get back?
What bird is it / doesn’t want her own wings?
How do the bugs know when to start work?
Can you hear / the space as it enters your body?
Don’t you care about the leaves?
Would you like death to be one long dream?
Would you like to have had one more life?
Each asks us to sit with it awhile, to let it spin a web in the corner of our imagination and catch the thoughts that wander by. The subsequent supposing both generates energy and sparks resolve.
Anything but an egotist, Purdy takes comfort in the creative ether which we share:
Woke to read a poem about unborn
babies and heard my name. Scolded myself
for not having written it, but then solace--
other imaginations are at work.
We—readers, poets, family members—collaborate in the busy work of living. We needn’t worry overly-much at not being able to control the wild horses of the intellect. Our subconscious gallops us willy-nilly, yet, surprisingly, we end up where we needed to go all along. We entertain the wildest notions, but come morning, we can say along with the poet: “I am still with myself.” How comforting this realization is. Thank you, Jessica Purdy, for reminding us of it.
Sleep in a Strange House
By Jessica Purdy
Publication Date: October 28, 2018
Length: 72 pages
Published by Nixes Mate Books
About the Author: Devon Balwit's most recent collection is titled A Brief Way to Identify a Body (Ursus Americanus Press). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, Fifth Wednesday (on-line), apt, Grist, and Rattle among others. For more on her book and movie reviews, chapbooks, collections and individual works, see her website at: https://pelapdx.wixsite.com/devonbalwitpoet