At the End of Love: A Review of Bridled, by Amy Meng

PLEIADES PRESS, 2018. 61 PGS. ISBN: 978-0-8071-6889-9

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If you happen to be walking down an old familiar street in an old familiar town, maybe a town that you’d left a long time ago, and you happen to hear a song coming from inside of a café, a song that you once danced to with a love long gone, I want you to recognize that feeling that takes hold in your chest, the “long solitude of your body,” which brings with it a memory of great joys and great pain. That is the feeling of reading the poems in Meng’s debut collection, Bridled.

How could one love so deeply and then stop loving all together? What am I without that love? These seem to be the central questions of the collection of poems—poems which demonstrate great formal diversity while exhibiting an awareness of the potential power of the lyric. Meng begins the collection by establishing the hope the speaker had for love:

I wanted love to be an end

to the days, which I kept
walking through door after door.

Though a love like that can feel all encompassing, it’s the small actions and objects we share with another that are the most difficult to bear when that other has gone, and Meng’s naming of the particulars surrounding the speaker’s experience with the lover allows the reader to feel the weight they bear:

Our mailbox with its tiny key. Your hand rising
to the low archway, unthinking. White noise
machine playing rain over rain
and warm thunder as humidity flattened us
into damp sleep. Beers ringed our shelves and outside:
bodegas lousy with swimming noodles
and steel wool.

Happening upon nouns in Meng’s poems is like playing musical chairs with the objects that make up her universe of the everyday.

Happening upon nouns in Meng’s poems is like playing musical chairs with the objects that make up her universe of the everyday. In this short excerpt we can see many of the musical and stylistic qualities that Meng employs throughout the book. Notice the sounds of “tiny key” with their lone ee sounds, mirroring the sound of the keys themselves. Notice, too, how Meng’s sentences often begin on strong nouns that set the tone and scene of the lines to follow. Finally, Meng’s use of conjunctions and connectors here create both a musical rhythm and a tonal pacing. I expect many of the salient features of Meng’s poetry to only get better as her career continues.

More than just the objects the speaker associates with her lover are the sounds that accompanied the lover’s presence, such as the “white noise/ machine playing…” and the “warm thunder….” These sounds, typically associated with relaxation and safety, will begin to evolve in tone and severity throughout the collection. The soothing sound of the white noise machine later becomes the awful sound of glass breaking. “I could hammer and open and shatter/ glasses in without much changing,” she says. And, while the sound of thunder returns, it has become a sinister reminder of the lover’s former presence: “I heard you like thunder/ sounding between the channels of sleep.” And isn’t this the way love goes after all? Taking with it all of the bits of language and sound that brought joy, twisting into something melancholic and painful to recall.

“In the backroom of my mind/ a little movie I dim but can’t shut off.”

The speaker in Meng’s poems understands, however, that one cannot simply run away or escape from memory and trauma. Though one can push them away for a while, one must confront those things in all of their painful particulars. “In the backroom of my mind/ a little movie I dim but can’t shut off.” The book, then, becomes Meng’s screening of that “little movie” for the reader, who happily sits and watches like a voyeur of home movies. The goal, ultimately, of spinning the reels of her past seems to be to reclaim those scenes—to both rob of them a particular power of her and provide them with a new kind of power—one willed by the speaker, herself.

And you might be asking yourself whether you would want to follow the speaker in Meng’s poems down the painful road of memory, where

Each night at the loom
she picks apart the shroud gown
soft as milkweed.
All around behind shut doors
the men’s faces
look like boys’ catching
in the snare of sleep.

You do. Because at the end of it all, for Meng and hopefully for all of us, there is a lesson—a lesson made more beautiful by the painful experiences which informed its material, a lesson about who we are when looking at the face of love and who we are when looking away. These are poems that generously reveal in order to help us see our own true selves. For Meng, “a woman finds her true self/ only at the end of love.”