Domestic Yoga by Jack Christian
Groundhog Poetry Press, 2016; 56 pp
Reviewed by JoAnna Novak
While it contains neither asanas nor ujjayi breathing, Domestic Yoga, the second full-length collection of poetry by Jack Christian, is rife with manifestations of the dualism that underlies yoga philosophy. You won’t find the speaker explicitly referencing purusa (consciousness) or prakiti (matter), yet these two realities form the basis of the subjectivity reflected in these poems.
Look no further than “The Cloud,” which captures the haziness of memories, ours personally and culturally. Here, the speaker blurs fiction and nonfiction, alludes to Dr. Seuss, and diagnoses the blunting of identity that happens with age (“now, they can all forget themselves”). But the speaker also deftly engages with that yogic dualism, which provides a spiritual anchor for this collection. “What I want to talk about is how even keel I feel / sitting between the houseplants.”
The linger of religion is a minor theme in Domestic Yoga. There’s “The Good Presbyterians,” where, “In prayers we laid Tuesday gently over Sunday.” There’s “Mother of Sadness,” which finds the speaker hearing a school loudspeaker recite The Lord’s Prayer. “Pretense is practice sometimes, I guess. / I say the prayer under the guise of remembering the words.” The matter of language—the remembered prayer—is, here, shown to be at odds with consciousness. The prayer is spoken not from memory but “under the guise of remembering,” a phrase that suggests the speaker’s memory has donned a very fleecy coat.
There’s a bit of the yarn-spinner in that claim of guise, a nice kink in Christian’s poetic persona. In “Poem in Film,“ that speaker admits: “I beg your pardon / I’m something of a chronicler. // What’s good about it / is when it becomes obsessional, // when I can lay it down / in this great non-narrative movie I make // called Life in In-Between Gestures.” Moments of hyperbolic, inflated, or self-conscious performance of this type of chronicling highlight a motif of resistance to stilling the mind, despite some cynical reservations. In “Unactionable Intelligence,” the speaker asks, “What’s the point stringing thoughts along / when it’s true enough to have just none?” And in “A Song,” a beer-thirsty dad-ish figure wonders, “Where was it one first learned words don’t mean anything?”
Yet despite the lures of oblivion (“For a year now, no great intoxication of feeling, / just a weekly stumble into gibberish”), Domestic Yoga is less about the nullifying consciousness than about redefining it in relation to new matter, the domestic stuff of life. How can one bear it? The yards and the babies and the beers and the dogs? Christian has the answer, in “How Long Asleep in the Thought Cave?” and yogis will recognize, in his diction, the parlance of much mindfulness, Western and Eastern philosophy: “Might we find noticing preferable to looking-after?”