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This review is taken from PN Review 134, Volume 26 Number 6, July - August 2000.


Anne Michaels is a geologist of memory. On the surface she likes to use geologic similes and metaphors to explain how things are: 'A family is a study in plate-tectonics, flow-folding. / Something inside shifts...' Michaels says:

If cut open, memory would resemble
a cross-section of the earth's core,
a table of geographical time.

But everything isn't as certain as these scientific analogies appear to indicate. The scientific diagnosis is a safe haven whose safety becomes extremely problematic the closer its premises are questioned. Then, what you end up finding is a state of extreme uncertainty, and uncertainty which can only be accepted - embraced - not analyzed, and never relied on. Take the simple phrase, 'Father Time, Einstein never wore a watch.' On the one hand, Michaels projects Einstein as the hieratic setter of time standards. But this fixity cuts against itself (especially if you bring in what we know about Einstein's ethics) with the suggestion that 'Father Time', knowing all, acquiesces to time's comic uncertainty, its tragic relativity. From 'Rain Makes Its Own Night': 'This is order, this clutter that fills the clearings between us, / clothes clinging to chairs, your shoes in a muddy grip.'

Having diagnosed this teetering state of continual acceptance/non-acceptance, Michaels chafes at accepting it. Self-consciously, art becomes a way to cut the knot; from a poem, significantly enough, on Tycho Brahe and Kepler called 'A Lesson from the Earth':


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