Streaming. by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
Coffee House Press. 2014.
In the prose poem, “We Were the World,” Allison Adelle Hedge Coke writes “…Some say the soup leftover was worded with decolonized language. Some say the taste lingers even now.” Certain things are best experienced on the tongue–a chili pepper, a kiss, a song. After the initial taste, they are absorbed into the whole body. When I began Hedge Coke’s latest collection of poems, Streaming, I had to read her words out loud. I could “taste” the music, the movement, the scope of her work. The fifty three poems embrace sound through many languages, alliteration, onomatopoeia; they move all over the page. Her scope is socio-political and vast, yet contained in four movements: Navigation (for life); Breaking Cover (for my sons); Where We Have Been (for my father); and Where it All Ends. Surrounding and within these are three sub-movements, named after classical musical forms: Prelude (for my mother/for the world); May Suite; Coda. So music, in all its forms, wraps around and weaves through these poems.
But what is the music of the Americas? Jazz? Reggae? Blues? What is the language? The tongue? Hedge Coke plaits English, Native American tongues, Spanish to create complex movements, dances from words. In the title poem, “Streaming,” she layers the languages on the page:
a dream echoing light/dark, some of us flew then
Albireo dreaming— streaming
Ya, yan, e, tih
Yah, re, sah Ya, yan quagh, ke
Yat, o, regh, shas ta
I am hungry
In “Hatchlings,” Hedge Coke uses alliteration to describe the loss of the Wampano language and the punishment of Lyme’s Disease:
We muse lingua franca, 1658 catechism pidginized–
rudimentary ruse relishing our retreat to the river shore,
where, here, we note loss, burning undergrowth forgotten
steering deer ticks toward their painful human pleasures.
Her language, her word-choices, become a body, a living organism, political and dual. In “Pando, Pando,” Hedge Coke addresses the dying, trembling giant aspen in Utah, once thought to be a forest of separate trees, but in actuality, an 80,000 year old single organism, weighing over sixty million kilograms, and the Pando massacre of indigenous Bolivians on September 11, 2008: “Pando/Pando/clonal colony/colonial massacre.” She ends the poem with seven lines repeating this duality: “Pando/Pando.” The concept of September 11 arises again (like an arm of the Pando) in her poems addressing 9/11. In “Story,” her sister “…was wiping/windowsill dust/when light/dawned on her, was ash, remains/cremains.” This dust seemed to have traveled from her grandfather’s ravaged home in the Dust Bowl “Dust, insects, sweat, aching/back/dust, dust…/Everything dust. Everything dust.” The language and the imagery in the poems are as ubiquitous as the giant aspen. This is an old voice rooted beneath a brutal American landscape, full of drought, burning, violence, migrant workers, diaspora. “Kichwa, Cherokee, Mohawk, Oendat still unite/through the Mother of the world—ourselves.” “Shapings,” personifies the primordial mother as a battered woman who
her back into the wood,
hands over ears, numbing.
The quaking from blows
shaking her into a crumpled mess.
She is the mother of us all
and the massive fruits of her womb.
As we await an answer
she loves us.
In the following sister-poem, “America, I Sing You Back,” Hedge Coke embraces and riffs on two of our greatest male poets–Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes–as her sons, born from her landscape, singing her song:
Before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep
held her cradleboard, wept her into day.
My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,
held her severed cord beautifully beaded.
Hedge Coke uproots the order of poetry and song—or, she finds its massive roots deep beneath the soil of America.
Streaming: “A steady flow or succession,” “To leave a continuous trail of light,” “cyclosis,” “making use of a form of tape transport.” I was able to stream Allison Adelle Hedge Coke performing tracks from Streaming. Her voice, that sinuous music, those words feel old and perfect. In “Harp Strings,” the final poem, the single poem in Coda, Hedge Coke writes:
this morning each veil brings joy, like someone strumming
mist releasing song, falling to branch above hummingbird
dashing in, out, grabbing nectar in the wet, wet music.
By uniting the poems through imagery, language, and movement, Allison Adele Hedge Coke creates more than a collection of poems. Streaming is a continuous trail of light, a steady flow music from the heart of the motherland.