We Mammals in Hospitable Times by Jynne Dilling Martin

The More It Disintegrates...

reviewed by Laurel Milburn

Jynne Dilling Martin’s We Mammals in Hospitable Times (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 2015) arms itself for battle between the devastatingly complex macro- and micro-relationships of our world. There is an anxiety saturated at the tip of every page. The capillaries pulse and pulse until there is an unsettling wash of satire, magnificence, and terror at the reader’s palm where “‘Upholstered chairs seem luxurious, but lay traps for the health.’ / I press my ear to the mattress and listen for the telltale click.” Her consistent couplets and tercets heighten a sense of momentum thanks to her smartly entrancing enjambments and slant rhymes that carry the reader through the transition between polar opposites of emotion and expectation.

This collection is rich in precision and simultaneously strikes the rational nerve while melting data-driven facades into something cosmic, something inexplicably expansive. Martin received a grant from the National Science Foundation to live in Antarctica where she composed this collection, spending her days shadowing scientists, exploring life in the inhospitable tundra. Many of the poems reflect this experience and connect the reader to the mystery of the seemingly lifeless “northern lands” that “fascinate and puzzle the rest of the world. / Are bells removed from reindeer before their meat is served?”

Poem after poem the body begins to lose its significance in lieu of something much less tangible but nonetheless generative. Images begin to swirl around a crisp beautiful fragility that runs tangent along a delicate-almost-collapsing force. “A Crane Hangs Like an Icicle” opens:

The citizen consulting the charts
feels vexed; that which we call Mars
is not a planet, no planet

can hopscotch backwards and forwards
across the sky. No letter
written in a state of insanity

can be punished as an offense.
When I try to imagine my life to come
I see a lump of sea glass buried,
ground to a blinding clarity under
centuries of sand…

The mortality of the situation is understood with clarity the more it disintegrates. Similarly, this collection pulls away at us bit by bit until we find the essential nature, and then it is our choice to either run like a “Silly cat. Scared to die.” Or, to accept the beauty of our world without judgment, measurement, or attempted control. After all, “You have given it roads and a seven-paged encyclopedia entry, / molded globes in its image, spangled its moon with flags, / all while plotting your jailbreak. Don’t think it doesn’t sense that....”