This is Why I Hurt You
by Kate Greenstreet
Lame House Press 2008
Reviewed by Caroline Depalma
In Kate Greenstreet’s five-chapbook book, This Is Why I Hurt You, a speaker tortured with internal questions and conflicting emotions breeds a one-way hero who gropes at all forms of life to find placement, and who ultimately is guided by her certainty in being uncertain. The five-part format, playing at a traditional tragedy, demonstrates a speaker’s urge to bridge the tension between the physical and metaphysical, suggesting ultimately that emotions, physical entities and physical objects are very much the same, and can be listened to equally.
Poetry itself becomes the speaker’s first attempt at becoming human. She opens with specific conditions—
it was in the mountains.
She got hit by lightning. . .
Only one thing
—which guide the reader through search for whatever abstract thing has been taken from her. Poetry becomes a means to connection, or the closest one can come to “connecting” metaphysically to what is inarguably a separate physical entity, be it a mountain, a person, a dead deer. During an interview with an unknown interviewer, the speaker begins to cry; asked at the end of part one how poetry can make a person feel whole again, the speaker replies, “I don’t know.”
In the powerful second address, the speaker draws conclusions from her surroundings in order to piece together what she has become, and what other people really are: “They want to bury you. Even while they’re saying / nice to meet you, they dump a little dirt onto your / shoe.” People don’t communicate with each other, we realize; they only attempt to. The address becomes implausible, imagined, dreamlike. She finds a dead deer and a man she refers to as robotic, piecing together a life she cannot grasp, but can appreciate because it resembles her own. By the end, the robotic man becomes a “universal pattern,” branded the victim of deceased parents, disease and divorce. If everyone’s motivations are suspect, everyone is also a victim of other people’s motivations, and our relationships with physical people can be equalized, even meaningful.
“Talk to me,” she demands by the third section. In a drama, this is where the climax occurs; in Greenstreet’s book, it is where the speaker begins metaphysically to interact with her surroundings: “You can’t decide which of three people will live / and who will die, but I can,” she states, overlooking the body of the dead deer. The corpse is in two parts with a black cloth in between them, a vision the speaker further describes as “an old-fashioned radio.” As she searches for art in this display, the speaker further describes what would happen if she walked away from it:
he’d look at me. At those times,
he would seem to be whole. And this talk, this
recording, would emanate from him. He seemed
to need me.
An “unlived pattern”—what “could’ve been” yet couldn’t have been, because it never took place—ends the book’s main interaction and works to place a final focus on time, transitioning the reader into the final two segments, where the speaker questions what, if anything, is the reality she strives for. In part four, she addresses the problem of time and the suffering and constant displacement it implies: “the tiniest breeze will set it / off. People don’t get over it. Women, never.” Reality shifts from objects to a concept, time; the speaker reaches toward desire instead of logic. By the transition into the fifth and final segment, the reader is aware that the poet’s mind has given into art and “always known” there was a way to name “it,” the physical and metaphysical entwined, alive in the work of art as it is in the human body that manufactures a work of art.
The direct address conversation becomes a bookend, returning to show the speaker’s peace of mind. Objects combine with emotion when she states, “I found the faithless pencil. The / paper, melancholy to behold.” As the way a story is told changes through time, so do perceptions of the story. The final line of her story tells the subject she is out of questions. Nothing is crystal clear. If Greenstreet is at turns inscrutable, it is because she relies on abstract frequency as much as she does logic; she arrives deftly in a place where the physical and the abstract share a common plane, mean the same thing.