by Marj Hahne
Invisible Sister, Jeffrey Ethan Lee's first full-length collection of poems, is a daring act of language that delivers with grace the self inescapably splintered by language. In the book's prologue, Lee names some of the things that betrayed him, such as "whiteness," "pretty blonde," "beautiful doll"—terms of race and gender that indelibly constructed and confined the self: "I could've been anyone / if only the cells of the self / would've let me out." This fragmented self ("all the hiding selves who seek") takes the reader through the book's core, a long poem broken into chapters from the life of Iris, the "invisible sister" of the title.
Iris, named for the eye's light regulator; for the rainbow and its goddess; for the plant of sword-shaped leaves and variously colored flowers. No wonder, then, that eyes, rainbow, sky, sun, light, shadow, and leaves are among the words and images that reverberate throughout Invisible Sister. Also echoing throughout are words of color, weather, phase, and extension: white, blue, rain, snow, ice, flame, roots, limbs, branches, lines. Fragments of lines unfold a story told in two voices (his and hers), the overlapping of which conveys this certainty: Iris' being heard is key to her visibility, to the whole self's seeing the multicolor truth.
The resounding of all the fragments of phrase, image, and music—like a soul's insistent presence—is striking, convincing us of the self's triumph not only despite, but perhaps because of, its fragmentation:
A higher wind carried
You lifted your face
the mask of self-
could hold the flesh
a shed chrysalis--
These are the last lines spoken in the two voices, harmonizing finally to speak as one, "to sense the whole horizon / through one gleaming leaf / unfolding for the returning sun." Invisible Sister affirms that "even if we walked across the if / that strands between us // and the if is us," we can find the courage to forgive our betrayers, to honor our multiple selves in all their uncertainty, to let their voices speak simultaneously—and in so doing we can emerge fully in communion with ourselves.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2005 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2005