Nathaniel Mackey

New Directions, 2015

In Blue Fasa, music forms the cohering metaphor against the instability of space and speaker. Nathaniel Mackey’s lyrics inhabit jazz and oral folklore traditions as formal structures that propel their collective speaker, “we the migrating they.” “They” are the Andoumboulou, a Dogon name for a failed early species of human being. Throughout Mackey’s previous five books, the Andoumboulou have stood in for contemporary human speakers, in particular those in diaspora. As members of the Andoumboulou come and go, the group constantly reconfigures and their migration extends across temporal and geographic space.

Mackey’s Andoumboulou are spurred ahead in heavily spondaic rhythms: “Pharaoh’s trunk it was / we wore, sonic swaddling, light’s / mod- / est body, sound.” Syntax then doubles back against sound’s momentum as onomatopoetic repetition returns the reader to particular moments of experience.

                     …Static. Rasp and
sion. Scuff…Revelatory burr-head
     hindrance, revelatory burr-head
spur…Beyond the next hill a meadow
     waited we’d been told. Revelatory
     head brush…

Mackey revisits sounds, words, and phrases as anaphora, but he tweaks them so that, while resonating as familiar, they offer new meaning. The “abra- / sion” leads to the “revelatory,” like an exfoliation of sorts, but the resultant “burr-” remains stuck on. The Andoumboulou travel toward and away from somewhere, but they remain “same / note, new octave, there again…”

Mackey’s syntactic splay further rocks Blue Fasa: Lines break mid-word; long sentences dance across and down the page, performing an instability that enacts the precarious nature of Andoumboulou travel. Ellipses join sentences’ sense while simultaneously obscuring the dimensions of the space between them.

Thin, synaesthetic, solemn…Nonsonance’s
     and repair…Land’s roll and run lay alge-
braic…Allegoric bone, splinter, splint…

Undefined space haunts Blue Fasa’s sequences, resisting containment within margins. Whether “solemn” above describes the “rift” is unclear, but the two live in the same continued utterance that leads to “bone, splinter, splint…” An analogous effect occurs at section breaks: when one ends mid-page, the next begins after a full page and a half of white space. The eye traverses the white space, the mind conjuring a story in the blank.

Even as Blue Fasa approaches its terminus, Mackey continues his expansive, transcendental pursuit: “ride / we told our horse / tell no.” For the Andoumboulou’s journey to hold mortal stakes, however, Mackey must eventually offer some kind of end to his fervent ongoingness.