Katherine Osborne’s Descansos (2018) is a roadmap of traumas that refuse to stay in the past. The chapbook gets its name from the roadside crosses that spring up after crashes along highways or in the corners of intersections. The kind that tell you two things: 1) someone died here, and 2) someone else is grieving.
And so it’s the same with our narrator. Animals burn. Volcanos erupt. We aren’t told the story necessarily as it is; we are told how it feels to live and remember it.
The narrator’s traumas are never concrete, never told as a linear narrative: first this happened, then this, then this. The best example of this dynamic comes in “(Oh The Water),” when our narrator sees Luke Skywalker at a house party and takes over the usual telling of his “near death / experience.” What follows isn’t the typical father-cut-off-hand tale we’ve come to know of Luke, but something more poetic, abstract, fantastical. There’s no “twin owl with the span / of grief a thousand miles” in Star Wars, but maybe there should be.
In both living and remembering, nothing is ever isolated. A “red snow boot” floats past the narrator in “(mid-swim savannah),” out of place in the mental image of sun and summertime and blue ocean water that the title conjures. We aren’t given the details of the boating incident this poem alludes to—something with “the tactic of metal shears slow across [the narrator’s] forehead”—no more than we are told the significance of the toboggan and the snow boot in “(prehistoric fall, year unknown)”. Yet the single line “Circling the boat” shows up in the latter poem without explanation, as if the narrator remembers them together, always. As if these two events bleed into each other in an infinite loop.
A car accident by a lake bleeds into everything. It brackets the collection, is the namesake of the first poem and the penultimate. It pops up again and again throughout, becoming a literal descanso in “Stratego” with the lines, “painted / red X / Near the lake.” Our narrator is the mourner, the one who puts the cross—real or metaphorical—in the ground, the one who wears a cross around her neck in the final poem, “Arrow.” In the end, she finds peace—or hopes to find it—with the final two words: “let go”. By this, she doesn’t mean to forget. Perhaps she means that in the mapping, these memories stop their bleeding.