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Molly Brodak’s The Cipher is a deft and unsparing study of the limits of knowledge and belief, and of what solace can be found within those limits. “We stand on the rim of the void,” Brodak writes. “We hold our little lamps of knowing / on the rim, and look in.” Drawing vividly from mathematics, Christianity, European history, urban life, and the natural world, these poems reveal a vision of contemporary experience that is at once luminous and centered on an unshakable emptiness. Wise, sharp, and sometimes devastating, The Cipher leads us through a world in which little can be trusted, takes its measure, and does not look away.
Praise for The Cipher:
Where the void begins, most are afraid to go. Some travel there like tourists, though, so they can have a story to tell us, or a wisdom to namedrop. A third type travels to where the void begins to simply bear witness to it, to extend it an audience, ceding us a space to enter the conversation.
As a poet, Molly Brodak worked with the particular means of words, making expert arrangement of their patterns, referents, roots, and sounds. Through this work, Brodak reached out to touch the elusive “fog around facts” and translate it into a space that she and her readers might share, across separate times. That space is, like the world she inhabited, sometimes a painful place to be, sometimes softly astonishing. Cipher is a memorable, beautiful work by a brilliant poet, one I will forever miss.
The Cipher, of course, evades easy definition—Manichean nightmare, diary of a naturalist gone mad, picnic with paradox—none suffices; this one refuses to be “caught.” The book is built from the outside in, the poet pricking and prodding us with visions until we find ourselves transfused. What other poet could pull this off—leave us with a rat’s head for a god—part-Orpheus, part-Wizard of Oz, who sings as he “moves through the dark” with his one candle, lighting the way where Brodak has left us, in dread, and in awe.