In Kimberly Grey’s debut, winner of the 2015 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, the opposite of light is not darkness but “light’s potential”—dark because unknown, perhaps, but with the possibility “to change us into that thing we never were / before.” Grey’s subject is marriage, or the conjugation of a you and an I, and her poems traverse the emotional terrain of coupling while grammatically conjugating what togetherness looks and feels like—“We love, you / have loved I will love/ you”—in the twenty-first century.
Grey’s poems function as finely tuned objects, with rhetoric providing the engines. She favors anaphora (“Built your truss, built your small back, / all I could muster, all cheek and luck./ Built your hum to crescendo…”) and the subjunctive voice (“If we weren’t starving for one thing, / we’d starve for another”), using both to spin out gestures or imaginative stances as far as they will go, harnessing syntax and juxtaposition to enact the process—sometimes smooth, sometimes fraught—of the I and you becoming we. One of her recurring questions is how love survives our contemporary context, where daily “the newspaper says / the world is in no way merciful” and “[t]here are too many / machines to teach / us sadness.” In “Modern Sentences,” Grey uses terms that millienials will understand:
…Let’s be vegan.
Let’s drive a Prius. Let’s find a robot
to make our bed and bring us tea.
My dear, I promise I’ll homeschool
you if you homeschool me. I am
a 21st-century wife. Tonight I’ll touch
you in some otherworldly way
and we’ll copyright it, YouTube it…
But in opposition to the technological idiosyncrasies modern love withstands, the poem ends with a low-fi declaration: “No way to love / each other but with these ancient bodies.” The Opposite of Light does not make light of the business of joining one’s life to another, and Grey thrives in the space of possibility, where what comes next, although not mapped, is welcome. The book’s final lines from the tour-de-force poem “The First Marriage” bear out this paradox: “We were fine / inside that egg, one yolk to get us through. Then with a squawk and a flap, she said I-love-you- / god-speed and cracked us in two.”