On “Turquoise Shade”
Joseph Jonghyun Jeon
Beginning with its title, “Turquoise Shade” stages a series of oscillations between the contingent and something like the transtemporal, an existence that approaches permanence, but implicitly rejects the series of Romantic terms (transcendental, universal, ego) that seem available to describe the condition. Berssenbrugge’s poetics are anathema to these terms, too resistant to a priori categories of experience. Rather, it stages what might be read as a kind of objectoriented romanticism that is at once deeply invested in the power of things, as staged in natural landscapes, but without recourse to the categories that would pull them into a humanist orbit. The title itself is a foundational example in the poem: the adjective and noun seem to reverse roles (or perhaps compete), the former becoming more material than the latter. Be it a color or material object, turquoise offers a sense of presence that contrasts with the figure of negative presence that is shade, i.e. blocked sun. The implicit question: is the adjective here a quality or a qualifier? In the first section of the poem, the nominal finds stability in a series of proper nouns: Sonoran Desert, Leslie, Tucson. These constant, trans-temporal figures, however, seem troubled by the opening of an alternate temporality in a nearly science fiction mode (“In a world where I did not visit this spring….”). Following in this manner, the poem, as it progresses, abounds in certainties bathed in doubt, not in the psycho-pathological sense of anxiety, but rather in the spirit of a nearly mathematical attention to fluctuation and inconstancy, shifting in scale from molecular “discontinuities” and “irregular dots” to grand landscapes and figures of massive natural force (oceanic, tectonic, volcanic) while refusing any notion of sublimity, whether sublimely small or large. The occasion for all of these oscillations is color. I have elsewhere argued that Berssenbrugge’s poetics probes the rubric woman of color by abstractly interrogating the materiality of literal color, neither as a secret racial referent nor by trivializing social positionality entirely. Rather, “Turquoise Shade” follows the line of this project by using color to explore what it means to think from a specific position, whether bound by social discursivity or by some other set of impositions and contingencies. Her later work is rarely explicitly about race, but it always seems to linger in the shade, which here, one should note, has a distinctive color.