Liya Person-Rechtman

of Brooklyn, New York

Winner of the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award in 2010

The Carriage

Baby in a vat of boiling soup – thick, tomato
My face is gray and wrinkled like an elephant
Tonight is the night of a very nice party full of interesting people  
     and I am a face there too
A mirror is slanted on the wall, near the ceiling
In it is my gray face – fat sagging off my cheekbones, under my eyes
Imperfection blooming from each hang nail
I am imparting wisdom on an individual – nubile, interesting
I am a strong, independent woman
I am holding a drink
I am dressed appropriately
But in this dream an elephant stares at me from the mirror
He is holding a drink
He is sleepy and drunk
He is dressed appropriately
But behind him there is a baby
Screaming as the window closes – years after it has died
The elephant remembers the baby as clean
He is putting his baby in a vat of tomato soup
This is the baby's bath but it is too hot for her little-naked-backside 
     and too big
She, the baby, is afraid
The baby is reaching for the elephant with hands – slender, like
     mine
Down into the soup – fingers last
And then the elephant realizes, too late, that his soup has been 
     sitting on the stove burner for eternity
He reaches down into the vat to pull the baby out but, like a tomato, the skin has already come off her body
He grabs at both skin and body – his hands, steeped
Deeper into the eternal vat they fall
With a finger he catches the baby's face on his hangnail for a 
     moment and he feels its slippery humanity whorl away
I am dressed appropriately – in white
A strong body has swooped me up and cradles me
There are people screaming as the door closes behind us
Because I, too, have fallen in
My dress is red

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Arda Collins on Liya Person-Rechtman

"The Carriage" is a violent, funny, and disorienting poem.   Liya Person-Rechtman uses ordinary language to create a world with precision and control, that has force and music.  The poem begins with a cadence that recalls the rhythms of nursery rhymes, "Baby in a vat of boiling soup—thick, tomato," and the poem's horrors bring to mind the horrors of fairy tales.

The elasticity and transformation of the images here is something that happens in cartoons or graphic novels, and to create that theater of flexibility in the privacy of the mind is something that poetry can do.  The poem creates the terms of its reality and its movement in the imagination:  "And then the elephant realizes, too late, that his soup, has been sitting on stove burner for eternity."  As in Plath or Dickinson, the outcome of events is entirely determined, fully imagined and plausible, as they exist in the emotional world we enter with the speaker.

"Carriage" can be taken as a noun or a verb.  It recalls the velocity and muscle of Plath, whose images defamiliarize and transform the components of our world and bring them into new circumstances.  In Person-Rechtman's poem, "carriage" has the meaning of travel through a life, through the self.  A person is a carriage, and is carried in, out, and through this world without the knowledge of its means, which of course points to Emily Dickinson's carriage:  "the carriage held but just ourselves."

Liya Person-Rechtman inhabits a poetics that is totally her own, and has imagined completely the possible resolutions to her own questions:  "A strong body has swooped me up and cradles me/There are people screaming as the door closes behind us/Because I too, have fallen in."

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