Larissa Szporluk. Traffic with Macbeth. North Adams, MA: Tupelo Press, 2011. 59 pp. $16.95, paper.
Traffic with Macbeth is Szporluk’s fifth book, a collection of thirty-six poems broken into four parts, that ruminates on the murkier side of Shakespeare’s tragic general and the dissemination of grayness that saturates not only an implied Elizabethan world, but the banality of the everyday. That triteness and ashen despondency, however, is made extraordinary through the clipped lyric movements and eternal pondering that Szporluk’s poems pose. Transformation remains ever apparent in even the darkest moments of civilization, however encompassing or singular that bleakness may be for Szporluk’s subjects.
Frustration encapsulates the speaker in “Rainmaker” as he tackles his own shortcomings—the disappointment of not fulfilling the purpose of his very existence. “I call your name, rain, / and I fail. I fail and I fail and I fail.” The mythology of the rainmaker, the consistency and dependability of his own magic becomes, as Szporluk continues, “so chalked with loss / that it could be the bastard / of an answered prayer.” In the preceding monologue, “Harpy,” the siren encounters her own lack of mysticism and loss of power. Once a trait that was the ruin of men and the death of fleets, her voice now “choke[s] up / a dark mouse / with no skin / and wait[s] long / for the space / in [her] chest / to re-fist.” It is these moments of a first-realized immortality, the mundaneness of magic or fabled sensuality, or their very departure that produce a disturbing fog around our understanding of myth and tragedy, or at least those cemented in the glory of maxim and creation.
The collection spins a more widely lateral move with the speaker in “Sea Lettuce” commenting on the universal loss of not only loved ones, but the myth of love and its so-believed compulsory and ever-present ties:
How easily our loved ones
leave us, speeding into sunsets,
maiming us with absence.
beyond us they don’t miss us.
Is sympathy a medicine?
in this green lobotomy,
Mrs. Lettuce, will you listen?
An eagerness, a desperate imploring for humane connection and confirmation of existence—Mrs. Lettuce, will you listen?—meets, again, the reality of falsehood. This ironic composition, the reality of falsehood, aligns with Szporluk’s treatment of the steadfastness of story. Nothing, not even the grand statue of myth and myth-creating characters, however they may appear cemented in the permanence of tradition, solidly exists. These Elizabethan figures, rather, remain fluid and grievous so that this rare exposure of the defeated players and motifs speaks seamlessly to the corrupt Macbeth—the signification of declining order.
Szporluk’s collection grasps the lost, and perhaps unseen, visages of the solemn creatures of literary and mythical history. “We are tied to love and hate— / same track, same train,” the speaker in “Rogue’s March” states, and as the title of the collection suggests, we are in traffic with fraudulence and corruption—a state of being that Szporluk captures with a calmness that makes doom eerily enchanting.