*Note: this book does not contain page numbers, so I reference the individual works (which are simply numbered, rather than attempting to figure out which page is which, which would be in error).
“The soil of survival is blocked by fear.
The rain of pleasure is blocked by guilt.The magma of willpower is blocked by shame.
The sky of the heart is blocked by delusion.
The iris of intuition is blocked by disconnection.
The orion of the mind is blocked by attachment.” (from #29)
Ce Shue’s 79-part epic about everyday life within and beyond the pandemic is anything but one-dimensional. It’s complex yet ordinary, intricate yet approachable, varied yet consistent. Presented across a series of robust and elegant scenes, Bridge of Knots explores our vast world of connection and disconnection during a chapter of inquiry.
It investigates the individual and collective, and it builds a structure to collect and share the poet’s observations and conversations in way that feels natural and expansive. This prose is captivating and personal, yet knowable and inviting, with thorough statements on human conditions and human conditionings.
With 79 small pieces often less than two pages in length, each piece in Shue’s collection stands on its own, a small tribute to the moment or the day, a waking pause, a restful glance and swallow. Moving across this book of acute writings, micro essays, feels like walking a path of stones: reading each from page to page is a hop, the breath rising and falling across each vignette’s descriptions and poetic musings, as readership is discovery and also activity.
The book opens with a late pandemic familiarity: “For a while it was quiet, but the world is starting up again” (from “1”). It goes on to describe the “opening up” of the city and yet the continued sense of uncertainty and transition. It ultimately moves back to enigmatic symbolism, describing the remnants of the pandemic’s constraints and restrictions:
The Department of Public Works has erected signs at the end of each intersection stating:
To Through traffic
Shue embeds her writing with a sense of the absurd, the mildly humorous and perplexing: life in the city during the years of the pandemic often feels strange, unaligned, and perhaps incoherent. The unnatural and unusual is matched with the knowable. Strange situations from the phenomenon of isolation are met with expectations of normalcy. In #37, the act of creation and gifting merges with the extreme need to mask:
I bought my mother a mask with black sequins and made her a necklace of faux pearls so she could wear it around her neck.
Time, context, and progress for a society in crisis: this serves the linearity of an otherwise fluid and modular collection of writing. Often feeling “of the moment,” Shue describes the everyday situations that move into the territory of extremes, but does so in a way that connects before to after:
At first the stores ran out of toilet paper and bleach. Then they ran out of bread and water. Then flour and yeast, and so on down the supply chain. For a while we had to line up outside the grocery store wearing our masks. Now we don’t have to wait in line anymore, but we’re still wearing our masks” (from #6).
These descriptions of worldly transitions are central to Bridge of Knots, the metaphor of tightness and logic feeling tricky and occasionally deterministic. But curiously this sense of determinism, alongside subtle urgency, serves as a comment on the presence of writing and documentation throughout not only the pandemic but our everyday. It is stability, structure, and a mode of centering ourselves individually and collectively through writing.
This centering is a balance, and in many of Shue’s pieces, a sense of calm and the liminal sets the piece’s beginning in place. But soon after Shue can infuse the work with subtle unrest and that looming vague sense of discontent often living alongside trauma, conflict, and instability of a world larger, beyond the writing. In #2, Shue writes: “I can hear the reverberating buzz of bees. / When one dog barks, all the dogs bark. // And the sirens.” These sequences of contrast and juxtaposition exemplify Shue’s search for resolution across life that has been clamped down and shut.
The closures and the dampening surrounding Shue’s settings lead to a flow of introspection and reflection. When one cannot go out, one explores within. In #3, the poet comments on how she learned poetry (“its silences, and its cadences”), and in #5 she discusses how the world is becoming ever-more-virtual (“Almost Real. / Almost.”). Shue moves between observation, pondering, and personal confessions. She confesses about relationships (that she started to see her therapist on Zoom in #14), about grief and desperation (“Because it is impossible to call out for help when you are choking on your heart” from #32)), and about a desire for connection (“Is it wrong to want someone, somewhere, to hold you, if only in their minds?” from #51). Shue’s range of investigation is huge, keeping the book opening further and further, building upon itself, setting the poet’s world through the language, across the many pieces.
Often Shue’s book feels alive as it moves between symbolic statements and complex questions, and the concrete descriptions of life in the pandemic. There is a strength between the movement back and forth. It feels like a journal, and a notebook, a collection of spontaneous yet serious comments through one chapter of our collective history. This movement is surreal, it often moves between what is real in the mind and what is real in tangible space:
The health department has drawn white chalk circles on the grass, so we can safely sit in the park. (from 45)
Meanwhile, it feels ever so ordinary, ever so normal as Shue writes about self, about family, about neighbors and community. Bridge of Knots holds itself in multiple directions: a poet’s constrictions during the pandemic matched evenly with a poet’s commitments to the wellness and growth of the world that surrounds her.