Marc Zegans’ The Underwater Typewriter
By CD Collins
With open arms let us welcome Marc Zegans’ Underwater Typewriter into the literary world. Zegans’ poems both anchor and elevate as they remind us of the rewards of fully observing what is before us—a jacket, a memory, a key, complex emotions, a moment in time. He engages our senses, intellect and heart as he constructs an intricate bridge from two-dimensional language and delivers us to the fathomless reaches of four dimensional experience. As Zegans’ reports and interprets, he allows us deeply into his narrators’ inner life and reveals a mature, raw, and piercing vision.
Stylistically, Zegans’ verse is varied. Some poems are three lines long, others take time to breathe and unfold. Some assume shapes on the page as concrete poems. Punctuation is spare. In many poems he uses only lowercase letters, which has the effect of lending equal heft and importance to the subject at hand, whether “chopin’s nocturnes” or “an illegitimate cousin.”
One of my favorite poems in the collection contemplates a ring of “Old Keys.” They open nothing in his current life, but formerly “opened doors/To rooms once familiar.” The poet longs for the keys to remind him of those forgotten chapters “But old keys are orphans/who cannot speak of grief.”
One of poetry’s primary pursuits is to ask questions. In “Catch” the poet goes fishing on a concrete pier with homeless anglers. He catches a rough-skinned gray fish and returns his catch to the salt. He does these things but does not to presume to know precisely what motivates him.
“I guess I went to lean against the rusting rails...”
“I guess I went to feel the fog wet my face...”
“I guess I went in summer to breathe deep cold air...”
“I guess I went for hope...”
I admire the honesty of this level of inquiry, which admits that our inner drives are a mystery even to ourselves.
The inner life is reflected in the outer world in some poems, including “Trimming,” where an unseen ice storm weighs limbs “beyond what can be borne.” The poet acknowledges that there is nothing do be done “except watch...and wonder at the speed...” of these losses.
Zegans deals in big themes—death, love, loss—rendering them against a backdrop of oceans, the body, cityscapes and the underground. He notes not only what we lose, but what we gain. In these poems, the beloved takes on many forms. She mystifies, leaves the poet bereft and is herself forsaken; she engages with the poet in a life and death struggle to find the shore.
In “San Diego” the poet starkly confesses: “I’m dying inside/Nothing will stop the bleeding/except for your kiss.” In “By Which,” he comments on the nature of real love: “I love you/I forgo the violent urge to have you/other than you are.”
“What is Hers” is an exquisite chronicle of what the beloved leaves behind, “Grey lace... thong left... as a scent marker, a trace memory, so I will not forget... Also “Tiny cut glass, black beads on a crumpled black necklace, set deliberately...” The poet wonders, if she will come to claim these objects, and perhaps, by implication, to claim him.
“Somerville” describes an unforgettable a kiss under a streetlight, the “double dissolve/ into the preternaturally warm November New England night,” illuminating how a kiss has the power to outweigh all considerations, which will have to wait until morning.
“The Outgoing” details the drowning of a college boy who drowns in the breakers while the girl he came to kiss bobs
“in the green
life and death.”
The lines are spaced on the page to evoke the ebb and flow of tides, the mortal distance between the lovers, the overwhelming vastness of the forces they have encountered.
Zegans’ verse is full of surprises and economy of phrase, “the drying ache of salt,” the a “squiggle Formica dinette.” In “almost,” a “danger body” resides inside the poet, “You cannot see my danger body/gristle sagging beneath my eyes/meat-hooked from my cheek.” In this place, the “me” is “a tiny voice lost in this chasm/of bone and skin and failing parts.”
In “Only Safety” the poet sits in his car contemplating the safety glass that has been shattered by a thrown rock into “crackle patterns/defining many principalities/in a space, once a clear union.” For the person who threw the rock, he feels “curiosity and sorrow” for someone who tries to make themselves himself safe through an act of violence. The poet sees beyond fear and and grief to the sense of shared loss that we all feel in a world that isn’t safe and can’t be made safe. Only “the dead are truly invulnerable....” (Out).
“Only Safety” as well as many of the poems in this collections help us to consider as the poet does, courageously and with a clear eye, the only thing we do possess, the experience we are in right now.
“It takes good ears to hear the sound of light
a stillness in the heart to sound your eyes
dropping line below the receding whisper
into the quiet layer, finding ground.”
These poems call us to see, to listen and deeply feel whatever it is. The title poem of the collection is a journey with a mysterious female sea creature who meets him on the ocean floor where she presents him with a “round-keyed Royal typewriter” and bids him begin. Zegans fine tunes our ears to the sound of light, to take us into that quiet layer and anchor us there.