This book takes its title from a phrase from Henry James, which features as the book’s epigraph: James wrote, in The Sacred Fount, about “the liaison that betrays itself by the transfer of qualities” from one person to another. Ronk writes about this idea more broadly, applying it to things as well as people: what marks do we leave on objects, and how do the objects we live with/use/love mark us?

I like the sense of life in this book, the sense of dailiness, of experience, as in the first phrases of the first piece, “The Cup”: “The cup on the shelf above eyelevel, the reach to get it for the first glass of water, the running of water now clear after the silty water of yesterday” (13). Other pieces, like “A Paper Crown,” use the object as image/metaphor: that piece starts like this: “You realize some piece of you has to be pierced in order for the almost unbearable desire to be slotted into place” (19). Other pieces meditate on images: “Branches” describes part of this photo; Man Ray’s “rayographs” and paintings by Manet and Sargent are mentioned. Other texts are quoted, too: there’s more James, and Maurice Blanchot, and Georges Perec, among others. There are sections about the relations between image and object (particularly in photograms: traces of objects, shadow-objects); there are bits about the book as object, and the book as experience. There’s an expression of a sense that we are drawn to objects, or they to us, with a kind of fate: in one piece, the narrator asks, of a plate: “how did it come to be there by chance just when I also was there? How did it survive all the careless sinks and hands, earthquakes and upheavals?” (42).

And then this ties into other kinds of survival: what survives of relationships when they end or change; how we deal with death/loss/grief. There’s also a lot in this book about the body: in a piece called “Talking to Things,” there’s this, which I love:

In some ways objects “speak” directly to the body and alter a route through the room creating slight vectors of pressure. The drawing I’d make of it shows thin ink lines from each object in the room to each other object, door, person, rug, crayon, phone, paper bag, plant—until the page is crisscrossed with lines. (48)

Possibly my favorite piece in the book is the last one, a short essay called “Posada,” which is about doing kung fu for seventeen years, and about what having a physical practice is like, and also about grief/fear.

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