"…bigger and more slippery than any single view of Patriarchy": Joseph Harrington on Sarah Fox's The First Flag
by Johannes Goransson on Mar.25, 2013
The title refers to Lloyd DeMause’s claim that “the placenta of the pharaoh was placed on a pole and carried into battle. This is history’s first flag.” Many of the poems turn on such powerfully resonant images, but there is a hermeneutic suppleness here, a fear and trembling when dealing with signs (in all meanings of the word). They remain overdetermined in the original (psychoanalytic) sense: generating too many meanings to be reduced to only one. “The solstice moon // pretends to be a cross in the sky. / It’s like the third eye of God / the boy, only rabbitish”: the ultimate Dianic symbol turns into Constantine’s conquering sign, that of the male (son) god. But it only pretends; it’s like a yogic third eye; it retains its rabbit. The father with a thousand faces seems alternately protective and threatening, both the surveilling “Man Who Stands Behind Me” and the wisdom-dispensing “Medicine Man” (133). “Father-shadowed entities gaze, / they root and coil and hunger, tongue my every / aspect. If they weren’t the only him I had / I’d ask the birds to peck out his eyes” (2). One gets the sense that this “father” is bigger and more slippery than any single view of Patriarchy – is maybe even a self-aware part of the daughter’s “birth sign.”
However, The First Flag frankly confronts and aims to change chemical, political, and physical violence against women. Fox is a “D.E.S. daughter,” a group of women and girls whose mothers took the prescription drug D.E.S. from the 1940s to 1970s. This synthetic estrogen, whose inventor provocatively described it as the “mother substance,” was prescribed to prevent miscarriages but increased their likelihood – along with that of birth defects and cancers of the daughters’ reproductive organs. The pall of D.E.S. – and the Herr-Doktor-Vater sense of mastery that “gave birth” to it – lies over all of the poems. “My mother and I have the same (m)Other, / man-made (m)Om. I came astride the butcher’s / alchemical homologue” (69). That (al)chemical homologue could be D.E.S. and a lot of other things as well; it is not enough – this protagonist wants the real thing, actual psychic/signifying gold out of the lead of the past.
This is what Joyelle says in the blurb:
“Attention, human-born: ‘THE WAR-TO-ETERNITY BLOWS LIKE BELUGA THROUGH MAN-HOLES ON ‘THE BODY OF MOM.’’ So announces Sarah Fox’s new grimoire-cum-war-manual, The First Flag. This book is not fearless, but, like Notley’s Alette, it pushes through fear as it pushes through membranes of harm, violence, toxicity, ill-inheritance, silence and suppression to retrieve a kind of knowledge from the opposite side. Fox’s poetry is a disarming, potent striving after some as-yet-unparaphrasable element which might, eventually, be healing. So necessary is this battle-passage for the liberation of our desiccated moment that our new flag must bear a line of Fox’s poetry: ‘FUCK THE PATROLMAN AT THE BORDER. At any border, within or without.’
Buy the book here. Believe the hype.