There was a time in my early life when I only read novels – great ones; epic, with huge, billowing characters and sweeping plots. I ran toward a carrot-on-the-stick assumption that if I sought literary true love and found it, I would want to remain immersed in it for as long as possible. As if time or space are reasonable measurements; as if love or life are ever entirely rooted in happiness. Then, years later, I discovered the chapbook: Word blasts intended to blow the dust off cognitive keys, each combustion disintegrating the emotional brush so life can begin again. The powerful quickness reinvented my perception. Discovering characters whose hearts beat in tune with my own, whose linguistic lungs draw breath in pace with mine has no prerequisite frame.
Vibrant, strategically placed words are essential to the short form, and Anne Valente nails it with An Elegy for Mathematics. Every piece plays a role; each small story stands firmly on its own. The arc builds and releases orgasmic endorphins, allowing just enough time to wipe away a rogue tear.
“A tongue strong enough to lick fur clean from shrews, to conceal the sheen of gold, but no match for my father’s, sharp enough to lash, to kill my voice before the woods unearthed the sound to keep.”
The etymological root of “Elegy” is Greek, and Valente’s mournful tribute pays homage to Tragedy, topically, while simultaneously acknowledging the fast-paced, quick-to-emote, modern world. Where life’s tragedy meets a desire for explanation, the analysis becomes mind scrambling. There we find Mathematics, the language of the universe: perfect, often covert answers defining the chaos. Numbers dance through our lives as often as emotion.
“One thousand beats per minute to sixty. Sixty beats per minute to eighty, a new elevation. Eighty beats and still, nothing to one thousand.
There is a syllogism of the heart, here.
There is a syllogism I cannot map.”
The collection is as frustrating as it is beautiful, because every relatable bit touches a nerve. After all, despite the human psyche’s tendency to find solace in closure, wounds reopen with empathy. In “10 Permutations on Desire,” the narrator attempts repairs of the mind and heart while caught in the throes of a relationship’s end, systematically listing thoughts along the way. In “A Hummingbird Comes to the Feeder,” unspoken earthly chaos transforms into a week’s collection of time snippets caught in the deceptive reassurance of a web woven with deep breaths.
Other stories in the ghost-peppered collection include heartbeats reverberating against the smallest human bones, an obsessive archival of life’s tedium, sage advice not without painful prescriptions, parent/child relations posed multiple ways, and “A Field Guide to Female Anatomy.” Sexuality and ruthless truths permeate as well.
“The Archivist recognizes the splitting instant that turns, the flash-burned fulcrum of before, of after, the way a single second can hold the dagger and the flame to rip a gaping wound so wide, to sear a chasm, the raze the known world to scorched, rubbled ash.”
Valente offers synchronized science and metaphor, lyricism and surgeon’s precision technicalities. She rounds every character just enough, and each scenario maintains its unique quizzical nature.
“Imagine that the world ends in light, that what love floods your veins is a gleaming of stars.”
Expertly steeped existentialism blooms as multifaceted flavors in An Elegy for Mathematics, and the cup – dark and darker still – results in questions only answered in the mirror. Light bounces, cuts across shadows, geometrically explains surfaces but allows each object’s core its due privacy. Resolute peace, found here, is worth every brow furrowed under the weight of analysis. It all happens so fast, but it lingers anyway.
Jessi Cape is a writer in Austin, TX, who loves living room dance parties with her tiny superhero. She spends most days coloring outside of the lines and planning world travel around food and film. Her work has appeared in various publications, including weekly articles in the Austin Chronicle. Follow her at jessiryancape.com and @jessicape.