Love: An Index by Rebecca Lindenberg

Monday, April 29, 2013

Love: An Index

by Rebecca Lindenberg

In 2009 the poet Craig Arnold disappeared on the remote Japanese island Kuchinoerabujima, while hiking near a volcano. Though Japanese authorities searched for days, Arnold was never found. Rebecca Lindenberg, his partner of six years, has now written Love: An Index, a meditation on their love and her loss of him. It is a book that could never be imagined without the tragic circumstances of Arnold’s disappearance and the wrenching unknowable that is left to her. “I wish this book were not here to be read. But it is,” Jane Hirshfield said. “And be read it will, with gratitude, stopped breath, amazement.”

In her book Nox, Anne Carson writes, “I wanted to fill my elegy with light of all kinds. But death makes us stingy.” And like Carson, Lindenberg is working to reinvent the elegy, to show us, through fragmented thoughts, how to comprehend loss. How to record the history of it. How to tell her own history. In this debut book, Lindenberg proves that while loss can fragment you, it can also make you generous. She gives us a reinvented form, a definite elegy, a compilation of ways to translate love and loss into the most modern terms possible. And though this project may have begun as a way of reconciling her own grief, she has generously given us a reference book for understanding our own impossible losses.

The heart of the book is the second section, where the long title poem “Love: An Index” appears. Here we are given an A–Z dictionary of terms that are singularly understandable and important to the poet and her lost lover. Some of them are universal: achecomfortforgive. However, most define their specific relationship, its quirks and nuances, and the individual components that make it unique to them:


Laramie, a basement, a stoveless kitchen, / toaster-roasted eggplant, baseboard / heat and sex in woolen socks.

Rome, 5B, stone floors, kitchen / white as the madness I felt there, a bed made / from twin beds held together with duct tape / always suggesting itself a metaphor.

EYE, in the Middle Ages it was thought impossible to desire anything / you’ve never seen, and so the blind could not love.

LEMON, Meyer, you brined them for tagine. How I love that word, tagine. / soap, when I got out of the shower you grinned, / “You’re a clean little lemon drop. C’mere.”

PERSONISM, I cannot pick up the telephone / and call you, so I write you poems.

SKYPE, you turned your screen / to face the hostel wall and said, “Okay, go” / and I lifted my shirt.

WITTGENSTEIN says, “The world is all / that is the case.” Once I wrote it: “The word / is all that is the case.” (Also: “Pubic parks.” Oh well.)

Some terms are private snapshots, some are grand gestures of knowledge, some are simply records of places where the two had lived. Singularly, they feel like fragments. But the index, as a whole, serves as reference material in understanding the nature of this couple: their education, their anger, their fights, their trips, their understanding of each other, their understanding of the world, what they mean together, what they mean apart.

It is interesting to see this index come after the first section of poems. That is, we, the readers, don’t read the first poems of the book with this knowledge. We are at first simply readers. And it is not until we arrive at the index that we are actively invited into their world. Then we become part of the book. Part of their relationship. Part of Lindenberg’s loss.

In a review of the book in the Rumpus, Spencer Davis says the poet is “trying a bit too hard to be inventive.” But really, it seems that Lindenberg is struggling with the opposite. The forms in this book exist because the loss would have been impossible to write about in a traditional poetic form. She attempts the traditional in her villanelle “Obsessional,” which works with the following repeating couplet:

What makes a man impossible to find?

Could it be worse than what I have in mind?

Though the villanelle is stirring, I find the poem much less interesting than, say, the Status Update prose poems in which the speaker struggles to explain herself in the confines of our own modern social media:

Rebecca Lindenberg is in a relationship and it’s complicated. Rebecca Lindenberg is single and it’s complicated. Rebecca Lindenberg joined the group “It All Seems So Simple Now, In The Aftermath Of This Consciousness-Altering Tragedy.

It’s easy to stay within the traditional bounds of poetry. But like everything, poetry must evolve and adapt for its readers, and modern readers want modern poetry. Lindenberg includes enough history and research here to earn these new forms. She’s read Plato and Sappho, Browning and Catullus, Ovid and Milton, as we see in the poem “Love, N1.” She has studied the history of loss, both historically and personally. And because of this, she earns the right to be modern and tell her story in whatever inventive and new way she deems necessary, or possible.

It seems then, that the whole book is working toward defining the indefinable and naming the unnamable. It’s striking that Lindenberg doesn’t know what to call herself, as she points out in her definition of widow:

 widow as: “a woman whose husband has died. / So, not me.

She wants to know what category of the bereaved she belongs to. But we, the readers, can define her. Lindenberg is a brilliant, modern architect of love and loss. Instead of keeping her grief all for herself, she shares it with us, and then translates it for us. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Linderberg says this is how it feels, this is how you talk about grief and sadness and love right now. Love: An Index is a devastating and beautiful and generous book of poems. It is filled with light of all kinds. As Hirshfield said, it must be read.