- Speaking Out
The cover of Pearl Stitch does not pull any punches. Immediately we are presented with an image that is simultaneously beautiful and troubling: the bottom half of a woman's face with her mouth open, tongue sticking out and wrapped in intricate lace, dripping with spit. Over the course of the nine chapters of Pearl Stitch, we are presented with a strange mythology, one that shadows the forgotten and abandoned, striving to give them back the things they have lost. Kuppers's stanzagraphs are incantations which bring to life the speaker's journey in search of self, as well as countless other voices that have been robbed of their strength, their space, their identity.
Pearl Stitch begins with a Hagiography, presenting us with a list of "saints" so diverse as to reference both Hermes and Olivia Newton John. The mythology of Pearl Stitch never becomes any less fascinating, spanning many eras of our own human history as well as physical spaces both earthly and celestial. All of Kuppers's mythological references are significant: each figure asks us to consider truth. The speaker desires knowledge, perhaps of the self as woman, more deeply than anything, even going so far as to call out to the mother of wisdom, "Sophia, let me lie with you" placing knowledge on the level of sexual desire. Seamless movements between past and present signal the mythology of our own memories, particularly the ways in which outside forces create doubt. This stitching of time and place is the one constant within Pearl Stitch, the only thing we can be sure of is that we will be in constant motion, crafting mythologies only to question them at the hands of our surroundings.
In the chapter "Saturn" the speaker constantly moves between mythology and memory, "heavy Cassandra, your form (leaching) beneath my fingers. Is this clover? Is this clay?" After the speaker conceives Cassandra, the speaker falls victim to her own memories about her grandmother, "you recede too far in my memory, your nourishment no words nothing to remember but the smell and tight beneath the flower patterns of your kitchen dress." The name Cassandra automatically conjures images of not only a prophet, but an allegorical victim of gaslighting, a female truth teller not to be believed. The presence of Cassandra is augmented when the speaker questions her own perceptions. We are forced to confront the reasons the speaker would be questioning her surroundings in the first place. Why is it that we craft our own histories when our memories are always failing us? Why can't I believe what is right in front of me?
These outside forces that negatively impact the speaker most often appear in Pearl Stitch as both industry and toxin. Machinery and metals grow inside bodies until they must be cleansed; the speaker even feels the need to ask Cassandra herself: "Did you foretell my future in this cooling lump of metal?" We see many tragedies at the hands of industry. There is "the tick of the machine still heavy in your blood." There is the "endless piston that drives the needle into the skin." It becomes apparent that the metals and machines inside of bodies cause sickness when we see the speaker's "burden flowing toxic in this blood." It is never a question that these "machines" are unconcerned with their hosts's voices, "there's a ghost in the machine prays / cross solidarity from far away who can speak for her / which women find voice in our market place?"
Once the root of this industrial inspiration is explored, the metal, the machinery, and the industry become something entirely different from the labor itself. Though we are privy to the industrial poison through the emotional experience of the speaker, this is by no means the only experience we are given. While at the end of the poetic text, Kuppers does reference her own industrial experience, discussing both the very present physical dangers of her time as a shift worker at a German manufacturer in the 1980's as well as...