‘A Traumatic Photosynthesis’ by Erin Taylor

— Andrew Sargus Klein

Just the title of this by poem by Erin Taylor in Cosmonauts Avenue is enough to resonate and beckon. It’s a mouthful of syllables—“a traumatic photosynthesis,” both the title and first line—that conjoin two disparate, depthless languages and worlds. It makes for an unsettling logic, the electron transport chain overlapping with the rippling of trauma through our physical and mental selves, the injuring of a process at once far removed from humanness and one of the reasons humanness exists.

[…] my bones
have found a place in a mausoleum
called childhood. an epitaph reads
“she tried to hold the sea in her arms
and only drowned.” the city built of
what has always been left under my
pillow elects a mayor with purple
skin, bruised over by time. some
people are softer than others,
some hide it well while others not at

The poem is a long, sinuous river of surreal and lyrical exploration of the body, the self, and how the two overlap and how the two can live on different planets without knowing the other exists.

[…] i am a body awoke,
i am a city created out of every person
who has ever fingerprinted my skin.
skin cells that grow plants, skin cells that
shed only during the winter. the bruised
mayor erects a monument to the moment
my mother first saw me and a monument
to the last time i saw my mother.

There is a resounding tenderness here, a true ache. The body is a linear, physical thing while the self is not. This dream-like world couldn’t exist without flesh, without a heart pumping blood to the fingers and creating words that attempt to bridge something, like the speaker’s spine:

my spine builds a bridge between
two lovers, when they fight they take
apart bit by bit my straight and narrow.

The poem returns again and again to the image of a city built from the speaker’s baby teeth, teeth which emotionally and physically represent change and transition. The poem bridges that past, and somehow, beautifully, concludes with children playing amongst birds, the light of the sun.

Every time I read this poem it speaks to me a little differently. Like a dream, I remembered it one way last night, and another way this morning, and will remember it in yet another way later today, and I am so grateful for its existence.

Cosmonauts Avenue