Brief Under Water by Cyrus Console

by Joseph Spece

One enters the world of Cyrus Console’s first book, Brief Under Water, aware of an off-handed, cool fluency. “When I first saw the need for a study of this kind[,]” he says in the collection’s opening poem, “I was living with my/brother just out of sight from the house, in the past.” A strange inversion of time and place, certainly; a stranger sense of the house’s agency implied by the preposition “from.” It is these sort of subtleties, these sleights-of-hand that characterize the book.

Console’s voice is at once oddly recondite and mundane; it has the feel of an entomologist not shy to pore over thorax and beer alike. The poems are smartly formatted: titled with simple binary numerals from first to last (a move that heightens our sense of floating in the ether of Console’s vignettes), and justified to the margins in a clear nod to classic prose-poem stylings.
On the level of line and sentence structure, Console is excitingly varied—of special consequence, I think, given his blocks of text. There is a general sense of stilted verve here, a STOP and GO tagged by the imposition of point-blank declaratives, stop-punctuation, and sudden webs of clauses: “His mouth bore a smear of red: antitussive, schnapps/there was no telling.” Then, later:

Throughout my upbringing I have mistaken novelty and the limitations of the first person for a certain je ne sais quoi. Like a little dog, I have one good memory, one bad, and the former loops over and over, the cropped grass and the box turtle.

These are, for the most part, the dreams and childhood recollections of a scientific mind: Console received his baccalaureate in organismal biology. When a ficus collides with a table in Brief Under Water, the frame-by-frame description of the table’s folding is presented with all the aplomb of a physicist; the speaker’s psychology is informed by, never traded for, his objective bent. This makes for a group of poems that is, in its taut carriage, alive with intent.

Without a moment’s warning we were on the red sofa in the common area, the floor lamps drawing themselves subtly, assuredly to full height. It was then I witnessed for the first time the ritual burning of flowers. A column of thick yellow smoke welled in the acrylic chamber of the archetype. Had there been music playing before?
They assumed a terrifying comeliness, they glinted like a caravan threading some dunes. The wine they again brought out, and I drank of the wine, and was drunken, and I lay, cheated, and stole. Each time the sweet smoke mounted to my head it seemed to pronounce, this is your life now. Moments later, as the throng of sparrows the hedge concealed commenced their nonlinear song I smiled, whispering, yes, it is.

And so once again I had ruined everything.


Brief Under Water, Cyrus Console