“Retreat” by Susanna Lang
Susanna Lang’s newest collection of poems, Tracing the Lines, was published in 2013 by the Brick Road Poetry Press. Her first collection, Even Now, was published in 2008 by The Backwaters Press, and a chapbook, Two by Two, was released in October 2011 from Finishing Line Press. She has published original poems, essays and translations from the French, in such journals as Little Star, New Letters, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Green Mountains Review, The Baltimore Review, Kalliope, Southern Poetry Review, World Literature Today, Chicago Review, New Directions, and Jubilat. Translations include Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, both by Yves Bonnefoy. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.
Retreat: a verb and a noun, an action as well as a place. This language play is essential in the compressed space of poetry and Lang constructs her poem around it. There is the journey to the beach house, then the beach house itself; the spiders’ scuttle and the crack in the plaster where they hole up to wait; the departure of day leading to darkness; the long conversation that arrives at comfortable silence. In fact, the poem itself is a daylong journey toward stillness. What’s to be found in the space after the poem stops talking? The poem poses a question without asking, provides no answer beyond a sense of peace.
The environment of this poem is so quiet it seems to swallow any sound louder than the call of a loon. Such a poem needs a thin, light presence on the page, something to suggest the filament of a spider’s web. Gill Sans Light is both wispy and crisp, like the spiders’ handiwork. Optima is slightly heavier but equally crisp, a broom put to good use at the beginning and end of each visit. In the title, though, an extra, reversed t hints at the spiders’ retreat occasioned by the broom as well as their life in the house sans people.