In a lecture he delivered in 2005, Vijay Seshadri, commenting on Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room,” referred to “the radical disassociation of the self” in the poem, “by which consciousness tends to understand itself as consciousness.” “How had I come to be here,” asks Bishop’s not-quite-seven-year-old speaker, “like them[?]” In 3 Sections (Graywolf Press, 2013), Seshadri’s third and most recent collection, his speakers find themselves, like Bishop’s, in situations that compel them—even as they remain inevitably attached to reality—to grapple with the domain of their disassociated selves. Their minds strained—by art, by nature, by substance, by illness, by stress (mental or physical), or by thought, dream, or vision—to the margins of the rational, they straddle worlds tangible and intangible, knowable and unknowable, possible and impossible.
The margins are familiar ones: we frequent them, wittingly and unwittingly, and peer into the inscrutable, the mysterious, that lies beyond our mundane urban and suburban lives. We function not only as consumers of the mysteries, but also as their Machiavellian manufacturers and purveyors. In the dramatic monologue “Script Meeting,” a veteran film executive (“Remember / our reputation as a studio is built not on suspense / but on horror”), addresses the screenwriter about the script’s protagonist (“You have his eyeballs / twitching out of their sockets right here”): “Don’t leave him feeling like that. Stick with your guy.”
He’s his own zombie.
He haunts his own nights.
Not in this life will he tear himself from the bank of the burning river,
hotfooting it on the radiating marl
as his arrow of longing seeks the other shore.