The mythic and the humane combine in Startle Pattern to create an arrow of divination that pierces the heart of injury and healing. Larissa Szporluk delivers prophecy in the form of bone, loss in the form of tone, and violence in the form of stone. The mythic and the humane combine in Startle Pattern to create an arrow of divination that pierces the heart of injury and healing. Larissa Szporluk delivers prophecy in the form of bone, loss in the form of tone, and violence in the form of stone.
We begin with the “Arrow,” as it is drawn back and released by:
not much wider
than a bone,
before the swan drops.
Lingering within the obscurity of belomancy, an ancient art of divining the future, is the prayer; the arrow is a weapon aimed at the target of entreaty.
Yet, the arrow is quick to reverse course in “Wryneck,” where “heavenly joy / means growing backwards.” Like planets in retrograde, the arrow must fly backwards before it can again go forward, hinting that divination is influenced by the past and present yearning, and is left to interpretation.
In “Phoebe” we see this building of prophecy, just briefly touched upon prior. The Goddess of Oracular intellect, Phoebe discerns with:
her forehead slit
of slugs that lodge
between the knobs
of naked pines.
This prophecy is interrupted by the speaker in “Ventriloquist,” where the prophet narrator speaks through the prophet, “I would / dive into your face / to cause a voice.” The speaker fights against fate, trying to become the maker of herself, acting as both puppet and puppeteer, disciple and spirit.
Within these poems we see the stone take root, whether it is the weight that grabs hold, or the stone’s role in death and burial. The stone can build walls or shatter glass houses, leaving Mum “undone by stone— / her blood made sounds / sand would know.”
Lurking at the center, “Skull’s Grin” begins in cycle and circles into creation, where “the eternal round of day / and night retards the garden’s / babies.” The night slows down the growth of day and faith. The stichic unravels the rituals of the dead before revisiting prophecy, the passage of Ezekiel 3:7, where the dry bones live raised from graves to prove he is the Lord: “what dumb luck to have a bone / that sees beyond that.” Here the seer reappears, pagan wisdom combined with God.
The arc continues its manipulation of time and cycle, where “chance turn ewe or sow and holler out / a womb of music. Memory, / that legless fugitive that haunts it.” The memory brings the past into present, while prophecy brings the future into the past.
In “The Devil’s Sonata,” The body is shown as empty, waiting to be filled:
sack of deadstick—
the soul is an orifice.
Hand it over,
[ . . . ]
and I’ll fill it.
Soon after, “Domino” signals the beginning of the fall:
[ . . . ] and so does this
antithesis that topples lives
before they’re built—
why exist, why exist,
if eyes are open wounds
and hope’s a pimp.
The soul is wounded and sold out by hope. Why exist, when destiny is pre-determined?
Mythology continues to entwine with religion through the end, featuring poems addressed to the Casketeer, Lustmord, and the Oak-King, among others. Startle Pattern also features a plethora of wildlife, from bull, to dingo, to mule and hare.
Ending with its namesake, “Startle Pattern” fully owns the power and violence of the body, where “the body is a kind of gun // betrothed to what the hands do.” The body is a weapon, be it gun or bow, where the hands pull the trigger, or release the arrow.
With a delicate entwining of both past and prophecy, religion and mythos, human and unnatural, Startle Pattern is sure to unsettle, with each precise word and a controlled tempo that “boomed like something / true was slipping.”