by Robert Hamilton.
It’s summer, and the news is once again full of talk of historic wildfires—on the west coast of North America, in southern Europe, in North Africa—and it hardly feels like we got a break from last year’s apocalyptic conflagrations. Given that this is all happening on top of a pestilence that we can’t seem to elude, there’s no doubt that news broadcasts, and even our daily lives, feel historic, perhaps even biblical. It’s difficult to think of a better summary of this feeling than the opening lines of Lindsay Hargrave’s fine poem “paragloria (Judgment)”: “Every day is judgment day so I’m / not sure what you’re waiting for.”
Of course, the 2020s are not the first time we’ve collectively worried that the world was about to end soon, and Hargrave knows it. “Your hills,” she writes, “have been burning for / centuries.” Medieval apocalypticism was largely religious in nature, and Hargrave’s poem is steeped in religious iconography: “judgment day” itself, “Hades,” “angel brass.” But this is not the whole story: other images arise as if from everywhere and nowhere; I am certain no one has written lines quite like these before, and yet, in their beauty, specificity, and terror, they make perfect sense:
[...] Rise! open your
eyes and feast your bare guts on
a white sun molting to
black dwarf beginning at
If you think you’re in for an ultra-saturated, Baroque poem after reading these furious lines, well, you are—but that’s far from all Hargrave has to offer. She is just as adept at managing bathos in a way that grounds the poem in our own shared spaces of banality, even gives it air to laugh a little. Watch as a high-flown vision of the after-life (not religious, but simply “life after this”) morphs into something far more quotidian, easier to relate to:
Rise rise rise and
draw up a tub for next life’s
bloodletting. You could live in a moon
colony. Find out which friends were
imposters all along and invent
new ones. Finish scrapbooking.
Reducing the old religious judgment day, in which all things are revealed, to petty concerns about friends and unfinished tasks does not in any way dampen the poem’s effectiveness. Rather, it enhances it, and paves the way for a brilliant conclusion in which the quotidian and the apocalyptic perfectly merge: the flames and suffering are quite real, not spiritual; the voice seems to be that of a first responder at a fire, but of course we all know something more is going on: intentional, maybe inevitable destruction; a world steadily growing unrecognizable; all of the lurid trappings of a Dantean inferno, but right here, right now. This is a poem that storms to its conclusion in breathless, heavily-enjambed free verse, that endlessly varies its flexible tone without losing momentum, that by its final lines makes the mythic terrifyingly real.
Still, this is not a poem of pure despair: “Rise!,” it commands, over and over again. There is something for the audience to do; whether we are to rise and flee, or rise like the dry bones of Ezekiel, is left open. Open, too, is that beguiling title, “Paragloria.” In Spanish, “para gloria” is “for glory.” Para- is a common Greek prefix denoting something that is alongside, accompanying, parallel to. And Perixera paragloria is a rarely attested binomial denotation of a rather nondescript moth—something that maybe, just maybe, has the power to flap its drab wings, rise, and get the hell out of all this."