Author: Victoria Chang
When the world breaks apart beneath you there are only a few choices available – to pick it up and carry it with you – or to throw it away, abandoning the mess. That mess exists either way. The question is about who and when it gets dealt with.
Victoria Chang’s new book dredges the rubble of both kinds. That of family. And that of society. The family plays out in an examination of her father, suffering from dementia. In the study of her own life in terms of who is boss and who is not. Her actual boss at work, herself vs. her daughter, her father.
Society enters in the form of 9/11. In strange, subtle ways, the event creeps in. The experience of an emigrant in America. Of a family integrating into the culture.
The poems begin in a place of thought. A cascading train that opens quickly into nature, aging, and death. The progression is one of language to senses. The words drill down the page. A sort of cultural tunnel-making. They start from a sense of now and dig quickly into pasts personal and public as they work down the page.
The form is ballad-like. The strong sense of meter and internal slant-rhyme drives the words quickly. There is little time to think, to absorb. The drive to go from start to finish is almost oppressive. Chang is the boss here. The control is astounding.
The healing power of voicing a broken history is important. One of reconciling the past and present. Talking seems central to the process.
my four-year-old daughter still listens to me I am the boss and I like it I see why the boss likes it
Conversations with an ailing father. Where he confuses her for her sister. The forgetting of time. Thinking he is still working. The conversation as her boss comes back to work after having a baby. Each moment seems to be a way into a wound. A filling.
When 9/11 first shows up it is sudden, it is a question to be answered. But the answer is never given. We watch as it happens. We see pilots merging with bosses on the 54th floor. We ponder children being too young to save parents.
Chang uses acrostic poems built around Edward Hopper’s paintings of offices and urban streets to discuss the ambiguities of human interaction. To point out the many interpretations of a frozen scene. The ambiguities in every day life. Here the question of boss melts, each time a different person is given the title. Americana is reinterpreted as the immigrant experience.
The Boss concludes with a recount of the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11, 2011. We are left at the mercy of a higher boss. Nature. And the concerns of man seem to dwindle. The problem of an ailing father is left in that space. Nature does as it will. The concerns of the office and who is in charge when are abandoned finally. The earth cracks open and water rises. People fade, people rise. They lead, then everyone, everywhere falls.
A final unavoidable breaking.