In Night-Sea, Rachel Moritz looks at history through a lens that sharpens and then blurs with rain. She specifically focuses on Abraham Lincoln in this somber and sparse chapbook. Lincoln is a plain man described plainly in the first poem “Abduction.” He is “tired and worn out. / Such a homely face.” But he is undefined too since Moritz never refers to him by name in this poem. The reader can only infer his identity from an epigram at the beginning of the book, a quote from Lincoln himself: “Herewith is a little sketch, as you requested. There is not much of it, for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me.”
The Lincoln that Moritz sketches in Night-Sea blends into the people he represented as President of the United States. At the end of “Abduction,” he becomes part of an audience that has gleaned elements of his character while listening to him, elements such as “his determined spirit” and the “sadness of his soul.” Lincoln comes to resemble the “blurred figure in rain” that arrives in the poem’s last lines since he too is vague around the edges and afflicted with a sadness as vast as rain.
Moritz goes on to blur the distinctions between not only people but time periods. The result can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable. In “Each Man Is,” the speaker is so submerged in the past that his or her words reverberate numbly, like an old trauma. While remembering a childhood home, the narrator brings up images vivid enough to overtake the present: “the moldy basement” in the rain-soaked house and “rifles propped in golden oil.” Moritz reveals how a well-armed past can take control of the present, ending the poem with: “How much nostalgia lives / inside rusty bullets, amputation kits. / This idea of the ‘great moment’ and the ‘hero’—″
Here and there Night-Sea comes together to offer an antidote to the “great moment”: the ordinary moment formed from anonymous figures and seen in quick shifts in time. At some points, it seems as if Night-Sea is a coming together of the vague, the forgotten and traumatically remembered. Not far into the chapbook comes the question: “What is form but a moment / coalescing?” Silently answering the question, these poems, pulled by strong emotion and language, coalesce for a moment before drifting back into a dark sea.
Originally posted on 7.30.2009