"'Again and again, darkness veils their eyes/and the palm of my left hand holds/the beloved’s last breath, a burning city:'

In Gilgamesh Wilderness, Jessamyn Smyth invokes a modern epic for readers to witness the earthen, luminous, yet also brittle remains of one soul being shared by two bodies; ‘the infinite beloved’ and the one who has been left behind.

Smyth’s diction spindles from her fingers like an incantation while also anchoring the reader into the corporeal and incarnate stuff of earth.   The owls, the wolves, the heft of ice crackling in a stream swollen with winter, and mostly, the embodiment (and disembodiment) of her beloved as they gallop and pinion and stalk and look up and bear witness to the birds in the trees (the way she speaks to her beloved!) as her language reflects their physical cadence together, the movement of both their union and even their being torn asunder.

Further, Smyth’s frequent use of white space on the page speaks as elemental as the text- which often feels like white gulps of air, gulfs of absence and then the profound invisible presence within that dizzy blurred spot in an otherwise normal field of vision; His face my scotoma,/the only constellation.

Gilgamesh Wilderness delightfully and heartbreakingly breaks beyond the formal constraints of prose and poetry and reads like an inconsolable and jubilant poetic form of its own. It is a form that reminds me of Ann Carson’s Autobiography of Red (and I hooted with pleasure when Smyth refers to it later in the text) in both its inventive leaps and kinship with mythic allusions to ages past, yet here in Gilgamesh Wilderness, I can feel more of what’s at stake for the writer, and I can almost almost feel the alchemy of resurrection; the beat of the book’s pulse in my hands, its breath, its head no longer lolling but very much alive.

When I felt the end of the book approaching, I wanted so very much to slow down.  I wanted the book to stay, stay in my veins.  I knew I would be bereft after I turned the final page, which is likely the pulse sensation of what Smyth was conjuring for her readers in the first place; to be invited to stay inside her skin, to become one soul shared between two bodies and to shush ourselves in order to Come further in. Further up. Listen.

Ultimately Smyth, like Gilgamesh before her, cannot kill death for us or for her infinite beloved, but if we listen close enough, we may hear the salve approximating an answer to that epic question:

how do we go on— heart open—

in the presence of death?

'How stupid and ineffectual, love that can’t stop death.

How valiant                                                     and beautiful.'"

- Jim Churchill-Dicks, author of Wine-Dark Mother and the Trapper's Son


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