I first read Alyse Bensel’s “Tourism”, which appears in Bear Review, Vol. 3, Issue 2, in an Airbnb in Omaha. My wife—girlfriend of two years at the time—and I had driven up for a weekend getaway from Kansas City. And Bensel had, just a day or two before, sent us these poems to consider.
Even though the cozy, artsy, hip bungalow we occupied still held traces of the young host who had crafted the place into such an intimate site of cosmopolitan weekend bliss, the house had become ours, no longer really theirs, as we made ourselves at home. As I padded the hardwood from bedroom and over to the kitchen tiles to the coffee maker that Saturday morning, I could picture us living there, filling the rooms with the bright, life-sustaining energy we’d gathered around us in those first two years of our relationship.
At the writing desk in the home’s second bedroom turned office, I sipped from a heavy red Le Creuset mug and read Bensel’s poems, and I was moved by some synchronicity felt in “Tourism”, which the other editors had singled out for acceptance. Looking out the window toward the intersection, where a red-brick warehouse sign read “SELF STORAGE”, I read the poem a second and third time.
“Now be a tourist in your own body,” Bensel’s speaker says after already having directed the reader to be one “in your own home” in the previous verse paragraph. I remember picturing my embodied and formerly lonesome self, in those single years not so long before these coupled ones, as having come from a similarly transient world as this, one seemingly “insignificant”, at times a bit “hollow” and “no more than its…frame”; and yet, even when in pain, the body I’ve inhabited has always been blessed with sun, shadow, singular beauty. “The scene is here for you, and only you, and whomever else happens to” stay in this home and imagine a life here next, I thought, transposing my reality onto Bensel’s poem’s surfaces before reading it again with my own commandeering ideas and images set on mute. Still, the voice and vision from the body of this poem had already found a home within mine. It was a double and echo of mine for a moment, the way my wife and I had made ourselves at home in this house as it sounded and looked so much like us. Softened into the notions created by the poem, I toured the phenomenal body as a seen and spoken space where one self can imagine another’s.
This familiar, careworn rawness, this newfound bodily certainty anchored by heartbeat, even in liminal times and spaces, comes across in Bensel’s audio recording of the poem as she peels back layers and reveals the life contained there, even if fleetingly, in each image and figure.
Alyse Bensel is the author of Rare Wondrous Things: A Poetic Biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Green Writers Press, 2020) and three chapbooks. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Southern Indiana Review, and West Branch. She serves as Poetry Editor for Cherry Tree and teaches at Brevard College, where she directs the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference.