Dream of a Perfect Interface — Image courtesy Meryl DePasquale

Dream of a Perfect Interface

Poems by Meryl DePasquale

You don’t have to read far into Meryl DePasquale’s Dream of a Perfect Interface to be reminded that language can be as lush, as textured, as vibrant as paint upon a canvas. That it can be both urgent and soothing, wholly satisfying and yet still leave the reader feeling oddly thirsty. Thirsty for more color, more turns of phrase taut with poetic control, more escapes. For escape is, to me, a central theme that ties these poems together. The cages that make escape necessary come in many forms: skin, kitchens, relationships, animal cruelty, self-doubt, routine, and patriarchy, to name just a few. What’s more, these cages are sometimes beautiful, often enticing, even comforting, but must nonetheless be fled from or, at the very least, recognized and articulated. Indeed, the poems seem to be as much if not more about encountering cages, negotiating them, as they are about figuring out what to do next.

DePasquale, a member of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, brings a visual artist’s physicality to her poems, a multi-dimensional thickness that elevates them from the page and causes them to hang in the air like Calder mobiles. While several of the poems make reference to art or art making (“Woodblock” and “On Parting”), even those that don’t are concerned, as is most good art, not just with aesthetic unity, but with the vulnerability embedded in acts of creation and the fragility that comes from living and loving meaningfully.

One of the greatest sources of tension that these poems create comes from the juxtaposition of pristine language, crystalline in its precision, with narratives, characters, and situations that are rife with stifling disappointment and bleak containment. “Woodblock” opens with the enticing imagery of “morsels / of puddled color, shady taste in skin / Sore neck, snowy morning, a place / without whispers, two figures. Always a couple / forested against the flakes,” only to end with a woman who, after being criticized by her lover, must learn to “throw / [her] hands up in the snow,” in what I assume is a gesture of defiance and self-reclamation. Similarly, in “What’s the hickest thing you’ve seen so far?”, “Songbirds prepare … to swallow the morning” in a town where dog fights and “lawn signs for Jesus” seem to be the only two things that recommend it. It is, it seems, a disgusting place that still manages to be lovely for the people who have found happiness there. In “Beige,” a wife and mother who seems to define herself almost solely through her role as caretaker to others is encouraged to “wake up. This is how a person gets killed,” DePasquale warns, “how a sweet potato gets fried in peanut oil.” The woman’s kitchen is ugly, her life a battlefield in which she has been reduced to parenthetical status, and yet she still seems able to take comfort in sunlight, in coffee, in the quiet assurance of routine.

What is striking about these poems is their ability to express and embody both intense beauty and stark awfulness. Failure and banality blot the lives and narratives contained in these verses, and yet they still manage to include searches for peace and contentment, both of which often come in surprising ways and are found in unexpected places. The pure and unapologetic ecstasy of “Dearest J,” which details the reasons behind a failed relationship, both is exhilaratingly lawless and poses the perfectly logical question as to why a girl wouldn’t fall in love with her sled, especially when its “certain surge” gives her moments of “icy wind-song” and “a stomach shot through with light.” The unlikely connections forged in these poems, and the search for self that motivates them, are no less poignant for existing outside conventional understandings of love and fulfillment, and what’s more, DePasquale might even being implying that the road to lasting and transformative escape is often not the easy or straightforward one.

The book ends with the long poem “Dream of a Perfect Interface,” which continues to develop and expand upon the twinned and paradoxical themes of escape and empathy that are wrestled with throughout the text. With each section of the poem named after a different layer of skin, DePasquale is interested in interrogating the meanings and mechanics of the very thing that keeps us both wholly ourselves and separated from all else. Is there a way, the poet asks, for us to redefine skin so that it no longer keeps us isolated, disconnected from others and the world we inhabit? By understanding skin intimately and with all our senses, can our solitude be tempered? Can we find a form of embodiment that is not just one more iteration of the coherent, whole, and unmarked body that is traditionally celebrated for its integrity but perhaps only has, and has always only had, little more than fear to bind it together? “We meet / here on the borders of you and me,” DePasquale writes, “put your skin again mine. Amidst all those slippery cells / we might find an anchor, some rigging to which consciousness clings.” Invasion, penetration, contamination, improper mixing, borders run amok are not pathologies in “Dream of a Perfect Interface”; rather, they are opportunities to re-imagine ourselves, our bodies, and our connections to the selves and bodies of others in ways that are not as limiting as they have historically been. These are journeys worth making, violations that yield more promise than violence, more hope than degradation. DePasquale’s poems play with skin, observe it,  alter it and decorate it in order to present as yet untold ways of knowing, feeling, loving – ways that simply remaining in one’s own skin would not allow. It’s risky, brave, and challenging stuff, but also full of muted promise, dim whisperings of potential that is hungry for its turn.

Published by

Emily Anderson

is completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Minnesota. She teaches literature and writing at several local educational institutions.