Joshua Beckman, The Inside of an Apple

Publisher: Wave Books

2013, 91 pages, paperback, $18

Because I ‘m curious—and because I probably won’t ever be let inside of an apple—I was lured to Joshua Beckman’s latest poetry collection. Beckman, author of Shake, Take It, and Porch Light (lamp and chair) is an editor at Wave Books. As with many of Wave’s books, the cover of The Inside of an Apple is minimalistic—black letters on a white, static-specked page.

When I first flipped through the collection, I could immediately see that the poems favor brevity. The whitespace is dense, making the words light buoys floating across the page. This form mirrors the collection’s content, as the poems themselves feel like weightless, though sporadic, meditations or koans—an ideal match for the book’s clean, stark cover.

What’s the inside of an apple made of? Are the objects, as he describes, made of stone, or are they of clover? Beckman and the objects provide an extrapolation for each other. Throughout the collection, there’s the sense of looking so closely at something you begin to see how worlds overlap, entering and leaving one another. At the same time, the focus sharpens and fogs until you are of “lambkin mind,” or you can reach out to draw a line and, yes—a deer appears to pirouette across it.

Beckman takes our normal objects and landscapes and reveals a life within in them that perhaps has always been there, we just were looking in from the wrong angle, and then suddenly normal perception feels almost blank. I’m not sure if the pleasure lies in the mystery of unknowing, or the satisfaction of some intrusion. In that moment of watching an object, Beckman holds back from naming a being, rather he sees a thing be.  He writes, “the things we do / we see,” somewhat hinting at this amalgamation.

We may have certain associations or ideas of things, but Beckman almost reaches back, or maybe even forward, to unveil new terms:

Like the world,
the love of my late life
was a moss,
bright as heaven’s maybe home
it gets all puffed up teary
and when the sun comes out
it feels different different
different. I think I’m
describing a storm cloud
look how it acts
other than it was.

We never stay long in any one place because Beckman seems to be sending us on a pilgrimage of sorts, constantly seeking new perspectives— a new angle which better catches sound, a new shape for the light to form, touching each sense. It’s often difficult to decide whether to listen to the clatter of the inanimate dialogue, or to feel grounded in the physicality of the speaker. Both seem pleasantly out of place, though willing to narrate for the other:

Fish’s little lips breaking the surface
for what?
For a fly.
White fly living out all its charming hours
and then nothing
down, out, on the river’s water to float
you into me
or me into you
says the fish, goodness
I’m just pleased we ended up here together.

In The Inside of an Apple, Beckman does not merely describe the inside of an apple; rather, he shows the microcosm within any being as it has been shown to him. The poems provide the inevitability of arrival, giving not only notes along the way, but allowing the entire landscape to rattle and hum. Reading the poems, you can’t help but feel your own undoing—your smallness compacted inside the largeness—and you find yourself letting go as Beckman writes, “It is a magical thing I felt / compounding its spark within me / as the pulsing sounds began to speak / saying, you’re so gone you’ll never come back.”

—Sara Lupita Olivares