cover image The Fact of the Matter

The Fact of the Matter

Sally Keith. Milkweed (PGW, dist.), $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-57131-448-2

"I'd obsessed over all the old systems," asserts Keith in this third book, in which she creates systems%E2%80%94through leaps and variation%E2%80%94to subvert them. In "Knots" she writes, "The spine is a series where action begins," later continuing, "The spine is a series of knots under skin," and builds up to: "On a ship full of species the rhinoceros arrives in Portugal, a gift for the king.// It had been over one thousand years since anyone in Europe had seen one." At their best, these acrobatic movements from one fact or phrase to a disparate other are not whimsical non sequiturs but revelations bridging history and the inner life. For Keith, discoveries in any discipline%E2%80%94from physics to painting%E2%80%94push humanity forward ("In 1621/ Johannes Kepler/ switches out %E2%80%98soul'/ for %E2%80%98force'"), and myth is used not as a crutch for meaning, but as an anchor for new discourse on selfhood in our moment: "Achilles refusing and refusing to eat/ Moment you already know: Achilles and the ambrosia/ so again fate might be complete%E2%80%94look steadily%E2%80%94/ Moment before the action takes place." Keith admits "Our history was not at all unusual" and still "One travels to the edge/ to see what always is." (Nov.)