Prologue to Mariamne

Lynn Alexander
2012 - Citizens for Decent Literature Chapbook Series

Prologue to Mariamne

Review by Paul Corman-Roberts

Lynn Alexander's poetry has a brutal way of assessing the world from the outside in. In her most recent collection, Prologue for Mariamne (Citizens for Decent Literature, 2012) her stripped down narrative functions as a weary, battered spaceship recording every detail of an equally damaged planet as it plunges through a biosphere rotten with overstimulation and politically driven spectacle. A tour through her poem titles in this collection reveals the following sequence: "The Atmosphere is Skewed"; "The Hemisphere, Descending"; "We Are As Algae"; "The Age of Drowning"; "To The Singularity, Wane" and "All, Owing to the Shiva Fold."

These aren't all the poems in the collection, but the order follows a descent into humanness, for all its travails, and finds the desolation in that state to be a universal constant. This is not to say the collection is a "bummer"; though it is no ray of sunshine either, as the opening salvo sets the table for what is to come:

				"Tonight we are with the
				fire. Finite.
				The Atmosphere is skewed.

				Here we flicker to
				We are shifting
				We are rendered as the

- From "The Atmosphere Is Skewed"

The cyclical spectacle that plays out in this chap chronologically begins where our narrative spaceship meets "civilization" smack dab in Herod's Judea (as many Western dialectics do.) Herod's second wife Mariamne is caught between the political intrigues required to save her own life while watching her family slaughtered by her husband's maneuverings over the years. Mariamne (the root name of today's "Merriam" and "Marianne")* is trapped by her circumstances, as a pawn in various power plays from Herod's court and family and of course by Herod himself. By openly speaking truth to power, she is able to leverage her position in the king's court by mocking those pretenders to power, who inevitably turn out to be her betrayers. She surrenders her privilege, and eventually her life, for this act of dignity. It is said she died in calm silence, while her rivals, including her own mother, excoriated her on her way to execution. *

The middle section of the Prologue to Mariamne explores this intrigue in the title poem and its following pieces, "The Age of Drowning" and "Things Like Rage." What Alexander does that is so profound is to tie the meanings of those poems to what is surely the centerpiece of the collection, the near epic and heartbreaking "Fingers Growing Furious" which unflinchingly depicts a woman being burned alive. While the poem's movement is absolutely literal, it also serves to symbolize the fate, but also the revenge, of every mother, privileged or otherwise, who ever dared to speak out against the injustice done to their families by the machinations of corruption that rule through fear:

				  	"Silent in the dampers they
					sat back
					and watched her fingers
					growing furious
					If she squatted now
					only black would smack the

					Met in that last
					transcendent mastery, the
					true last tension of the
					muscle clinging to bone

					layers their compressing acts
					the black to vanishing

					Soon her dust was in their

                                                                                 - Fingers Growing Furious

This poem, in effect, links Queen Mariamne to our modernist sensibilities about using truth as a weapon. Mariamne is very much in the dialectic of Joan of Arc, the so called "witches" of Salem, Artaud's Theater of Cruelty, or even say Sandra Fluke who dared to speak out against hypocrisy and political agenda, only to be then cast as a hypocrite and manipulator despite her good intentions by the few who whip up the frenzy of a cowed and ignorant populace.

The message isn't comforting, echoing so many others in this apocalyptic age, particularly those of the "things-have-to-get-worse-before-they-get-better" stripe. And yet Alexander doesn't leave us hopeless:

					"You are in the smallest
					speck that isn't zero
					The bang in a box

					The black to vanishing

					You are invisible, in the
					dark matter drown of
					elements stripped.  All
					Owing to

					The Shiva fold
					Still you live

                                                                         -	from "All.  Owing to the Shiva Fold"

The promise of rebirth from the void is not denied, nor is the hope that lessons of the current incarnation of human civilization are not lost in those rebirths.

* Jewish Encyclopedia