Each of the twenty-three poems in Hadara Bar-Nadav’s chapbook Fountain and Furnace takes an object as its focus. These range from the organic (“Thumb,” “Mouth”), to the domestic (“Wineglass,” “Spoon”), to the far less tangible (“Shadow,” “Sun”). The poems are description-driven, often ode-like. Some read like Anglo-Saxon riddles: the Sun is a “Blistered apple,/ gold that molts// the eye & boils/ animals in their caves”; the spine is a “bone ruffle,” a “dress of milk and wire.”
But these poems are more than mere sketches; urgent questions are at stake. For example: What is the relationship between the human and the object? Where is the boundary between them? Do we have an ethical responsibility toward objects, and if so, what actions and attitudes does that responsibility require?
These poems suggest that there is something wrong with the way we treat objects. Though we rely on them—the speaker begs the “26 dumb godlets” of her spine to “[s]tay// with me now, stand/ next to the spire// of my crumbling”—we are both violent (in “Ladder,” “Someone opens her,/ someone holds her down// The iron bite of her cry/ winds through the streets”) and neglectful (the Wineglass is “nightly forgotten/ on a nightstand”). We exploit them for their potential to enlighten us; they “ste[p] us closer to God […] We would not touch/ the light any other way” (“Ladder”). But in the world of Fountain and Furnace, the objects talk back. “No one notices my head,” complains the Door, “no one soothes/ my forehead with a cool cloth.” Instead, “[y]ou handle me, he handles me.// My gold protuberance/ available by turns” (“Door”).
And if we shrug off our brutality, Bar-Nadav raises the stakes by showing what happens when humans are treated as objects. In “Mouth,” for example, “[o]ther trucks drive by,/ this time carting// pigs, then horses,/ then people.// People stuffed/ into crates—.”
The poems occasionally dip into the banal. To say that a motel “witness[es] a thousand stories” is hardly new. And occasionally a description will raise some eyebrows. Why, for example, is a nightgown a “slut cut from cotton”? But the project is an interesting one. If, as Bar-Nadav writes in “Mouth,” “we are all in pieces/ and sad,” Fountain and Furnace is an attempt to bring these disparate parts together and endow them with lives of their own.