Gently Read Literature, Spring 2014


The new issue of Gently Read Literature is now available. If you’d like to order a copy, send $4.00 via PayPal (https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/make-online-payments) to the email address gentlyreadlit@ymail.com or mail a check payable to “Daniel Casey” with “Gently Read Literature” in the memo line to

Daniel Casey
816 Indiana St.
Lawrence, KS 66044

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GENTLY READ LITERATURE

Spring 2014 Issue

3—The Hidden Ordinary: Glenda Burgess on Two Poets

7—True Stories from a Mexican Prison: Deborah Clearman on Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree by Mary Ellen Sanger

10—Gazing Upon Broken Mirrors: Wes Bishop on Lee Upton’s The Tao of Humiliation

14—Notions of Beauty and Materiality: Sally Deskins on Yona Harvey’s Hemming the Water

17—Tragic Histories: Ed Davis on Michael Harris’s Romantic History

22—Terse Lyricism: Daniela Gioseffi on Alfredo de Palchi’s Paradigm: New and Selected Poems 1947-2009

25—A Transcaucasian Mind: Mike Walker on Arslan Khasavov’s Sense

34—The Anti-Mayberry: Rebecca Stoebe on Earplugs by Bram Riddlebarger

37—The Delicate and Precarious: Catherine Bailey Kyle on Glenn Shaheen’s Unchecked Savagery

40—Dogs Don’t Fall in Love: Eileen Austen on Jane Vandenburgh’s The Wrong Dog Dream

44—Tangibly Intangible: Kelly Lydick on Brian Mihok’s The Quantum Manual of Style

49—Loss of Distinction: Jordan Wheatley on Sandy Florian’s Boxing the Compass

55—Ambiences: Bonnie ZoBell on Doug Holder’s Eating Grief at 3 AM

59—Thomas Pynchon’s Escape to the Bleeding Edge by Jesse Lambertson

66—The Culmination of a Life’s Close Attention: Karen Craigo on Sydney Lea’s I Was Thinking of Beauty

69—Burnette Saxifrage: Bonnie ZoBell on Jen Michalski’s The Tide King

74—Assembling a Diverse Literary Society: Kayla Rodney on the Anthology Dismantle

79—Nature’s Lens: Karen Craigo on Paula Bohince’s The Children

82—Intimacy and Exposure: C.P. DeSimone on Sean Thomas Dougherty’s All You Ask For Is Longing

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Gently Read Literature, Winter 2014


Gently Read Literature’s first issue of 2014 is out now.

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The Winter 2014 issue includes fiction reviews of authors such as Peter Cherches, Kirby Gann, Pamela Erens, Bonnie ZoBell, George Guida, Valerie Fioravanti, Adam Berlin, Luanne Rice, Bruce Holbert, Linda Lappin, and Juliet Marillier.

As well as poetry reviews of collections by Caryl Pagel, Emma Bolden, Elizabeth Robinson, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Bill Yarrow, Frances Hatfield, John Gosslee, Marjorie Maddox, Gerald Fleming, Kristina Marie Darling, Mary Biddinger, Terry Blackhawk, francine j. harris, Jamie Sharpe, Alex Dimitrov, Petrosino, Carrie Olivia Adams, Jeffery Pethybridge, Julie Marie Wade, and Olivia Stiffler.

We’d love for you’ to subscribe to GRL to receive this as well as the Spring issue (released in May) and the Fall issue (released in September). A year subscription is only $10 and will be delivered to your email as a PDF.

You can subscribe via PayPal ( https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/make-online-payments ) by sending to the email address gentlyreadlit@ymail.com

or mail a check payable to Daniel Casey at

Daniel Casey

816 Indiana St.

Lawrence, KS 66044

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Gently Read Literature
Reviews of Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction
Winter 2014

Contents

4—Colleen Abel on Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death

6—Christina M. Rau on Emma Bolden’s poetry collection Maleficae

10—Amy Pence on reading On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson

12—Michael Kasper reviews the novel Lift Your Right Arm by Peter Cherches

15—Making Music from the Badlands of Horror Vacui: Virginia Konchan reviews Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s Swamp Isthmus

18—Parth Vasa reviews Kirby Gann’s novel Ghosting

21—David Appelbaum on Bill Yarrow’s Pointed Sentences

24—Ed Davis reviews the novel The Virgins by Pamela Erens

27—Robin Martin reviews Bonnie ZoBell’s short stories in The Whack Job Girls

30—Fred Misurella reviews George Guida’s short fictions in The Pope Stories

32—Bonnie ZoBell reviews Valerie Fioravanti’s short story collection Garbage Night at the Opera

35—Grace Curtis reviews Frances Hatfield’s poetry collection Rudiments of Flight

37—Robin Martin reviews Adam Berlin’s novel The Number of Missing

40—Christina M. Rau reviews John Gosslee’s Blitzkrieg

43—David Berridge reviews the anthology Homage to Etal Adnan

51—Brief Alphabet of Grief: Carolyn Perry Reviews Local News from Someplace Else by Marjorie Maddox

56—Deborah Bogen reviews Gerald Fleming’s prose poetry collection The Choreographer

59—Sally Deskins on Kristina Marie Darling’s VOW

61—An Insurgency of Language: Stacia M. Fleegal’s review of Mary Biddinger’s poetry collection O Holy Insurgency

63—Suzanne Hard on Luanne Rice’s novel The Lemon Orchard

65—Margaret Rozga reviews Terry Blackhawk’s poetry collection The Light Between

68—Jonterri Gadson reviews allegiance by francine j. harris

71—Emilie Esther-Ann Schnabel reviews Animal Husbandry Today by Jamie Sharpe

73—Samantha Duncan reviews Alex Dimitrov’s poetry collection Begging for It

75—Sing a Song of Darkness: Katherine Yets on Hymn for the Black Terrific by Kiki Petrosino

78—Help Me Solve a Mystery, Who is Who and Where are We?: Katherine Yets on Carrie Olivia Adams’ Forty-One Jane Doe’s

82—The Poem is a Ritual that Conceals: C. Kubasta reviews Jeffrey Pethybridge’s Striven, the Bright Treatise

85—Acceptance Inside an Envelope: Katherine Yets reviews of Julie Marie Wade’s poetry collection Postage Due

88—Olivia Stiffler’s poetry collection Otherwise, We Are Safe reviewed by Margaret Rozga

92—Twenty Poets Talking: Robert Archambeau reviews the anthology Password Primeval

95—Channeling the Prose Poem’s Ancestry: Steven Wingate reviews the anthology Family Portrait: American Prose Poetry

98—James Wharton reviews Bruce Holbert’s novel Lonesome Animals

101—Shaina Mugan reviews Linda Lappin’s Signatures in Stone

103—Things Redefined: Ayesha Ali Reviews Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Gently Read Literature can now be purchased for download to your Nook or Kindle!


 

Gently Read Literature can now be purchased for download to your Nook or Kindle!

Not only will Gently Read Literature be sent free to our list of subscribers every month but also we will offer digital download to you e-reader, tablet, or hand-held device.

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A Departure from the Midwest Sojourn: James Reiss on BH Fairchild’s Usher


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Usher, B. H. Fairchild, W. W. Norton & Company

A few years ago in an Introduction to Poetry course I taught at Miami University in Ohio I assigned a dozen-or-so ballads and narrative poems, including the anonymous “Bonny Barbara Allen,” Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening” and X. J. Kennedy’s “In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day.” The last question in my pop quiz asked my 45 undergraduates which poem they liked best. More than half of them wrote that they preferred B. H. Fairchild’s “Body and Soul.” I was taken aback by their responses. At 110 lines “Body and Soul” was the longest poem assigned. It was probably the most difficult and complex poem in the group. As anyone who has read Fairchild’s free-verse narrative about a 1946 baseball game in Commerce, Oklahoma, with its ragtag team of post–Depression/WWII players—to whom a fifteen-year-old offers himself as a rookie—“Body and Soul” is as ponderable as it is riveting. The fifteen-year old, who happens to be the Hall-of-Fame slugger Mickey Mantle, bats five home runs and embarrasses the gang of down-and-out townies. In his final line Fairchild describes “the blonde and blue-eyed” Mantle as one “who will not easily be forgiven.” Lesser poets commemorating an event of local lore might have ended this line with the word “forgotten,” thereby sentimentalizing the occasion and placing Mantle on a predictable pedestal—or mantelpiece! In describing his poem’s hero as “not easily. . .forgiven,” Fairchild tossed my undergraduates a curved ball, as if to say, “The winner does not take all but, rather, takes on lots of Bronx cheers, a ballpark of hard feelings.” Despite its dilemmas—or perhaps because of them—my students voted for “Body and Soul” and spoke up about it one day in a class that I recall was unusually animated.

“The Art of the Lathe” came out about 10 years ago and walked off with a hefty armful of awards due to the power of poems like “Body and Soul.” In 2002, having signed on with a large commercial press, Fairchild won what is arguably our third most prestigious book prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, for his dauntingly titled “Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest.” If the phrase, “memory systems,” sounds like scientific jargon, bear in mind that “the art of the lathe” could just as well be seen as a science. At any rate, Fairchild has never harbored a Romantic poet’s distaste for science. As the son of a lathe operator, he would never, like Poe, have referred to science as a “Vulture, whose wings are dull realities.” Neither would Fairchild have ever embraced Wordsworth’s distrust of “our meddling intellect.”

On the contrary, in his new fifth full-length book Fairchild’s love for the intellect is as ardent as his passion for the oil fields of Texas and the sand hills of Kansas. His latest poems are peopled with philosophers—Gödel, Hume, Wittgenstein—as well as theologians—Niebuhr, Tillich—who, though they most certainly are not depicted as spitting wads of the Red Man chewing tobacco Fairchild festishizes, seem to sprout out of urban sidewalks as if out of winter wheat fields. Fairchild’s eggheaded obsession with the “ontic” appears insatiable. No poet I know in his generation is as preoccupied as Fairchild with the nature of being. Even the author of “Ideas of Order,” Wallace Stevens, slouches alongside of Fairchild when it comes to dealing with the history of philosophy.

To be sure, Fairchild’s epigraph-laden book teems with wrecked tractors and rusted pickups. With small family farms having gone bankrupt thanks to gigantic agribusinesses that have commandeered the land; with hog and chicken “factories” whose animals never see the light of day—something is rotten in mid-America. Fairchild may not be one of those “Socialists” John McCain and Sarah Palin recently whined about. But in thinking about abandoned towns in our nation’s heartland, the poet remembers that “Eugene Debs set up The People’s College in Fort Scott,” Kansas. At one point Fairchild is so riled, his grassroots agenda so clear, that he refers to the legendary Socialist candidate for the U.S. presidency as “Comrade Debs.”

More important, as far as I’m concerned, is the way this book goes beyond social realism and regionalism, breaking ground that may not be wholly “new,” but that marks the most significant departure from Fairchild’s Midwest Sojourn I’ve seen thus far. This book’s title poem is at least as masterly as any of Frank Bidart’s best persona poems. Paul Mariani may be right, on the basis of its title poem, to call this collection “an American classic.”

Sporting approximately 160 lines, halfway between the length of “Prufrock” and “The Death of the Hired Man,” “Usher” is an epistolary dramatic monologue spoken in hexameters—a relaxed version of Homer’s dactylic hexameter—by a young Jewish theology student, Nathan Gold. The setting is the Upper West Side of New York City, where Gold works part-time in a movie theater during the 1950s. Like Fairchild lamenting the desecration of our hinterland, Gold condemns the “goddamned Cross Bronx Expressway” masterminded by the Big Wormy Apple’s kingpin city planner, Robert Moses, who razed whole neighborhoods to build it. Much as I appreciate the vigor of Gold—and Fairchild’s—critique, what I consider to be a matter of greater concern in this poem is the way it uses Loew’s 83rd Street Theater as a metaphor. In ushering “drunks, bums, lovers, priests, housewives,/ cops, street punks shooting up, whores giving blowjobs / in the balcony,” Gold resembles Dante’s guide, Virgil. For that matter, Gold assumes the role of someone leading masses of Athenians to sit in Plato’s cave and view shadows. For all their lack of substance, these images represent mid–twentieth century pop culture: Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, as well as Hubert’s Dime Museum and Al Flosso’s magic shop—New York City mired in what Robert Lowell called “the tranquilized Fifties.” Fairchild is starstruck by freak shows featuring “lovely Olga / and her beard, Sealo the Seal Boy, The Armless Wonder, / Albert-Alberta”; another monologue, the 80-plus-line “Frieda Pushnik,” is spoken by an armless, legless girl. But the most poignant, bizarre character to emerge in the title poem, “Usher”—and, for me, in the entire book—is Gold’s sister, Sivan. In the Dear-Sollie letter written to his brother, Gold says their sister is dying from “glioblastoma multiforme,” brain cancer. Because her doctors won’t prescribe enough Dilaudid to relieve her pain, Gold must cruise the streets for narcotics.

Still, lowlife characters and a dying sister are a sideshow. Gold’s ontological ruminations give way to the poem’s climactic lollapalooza. When you recall that Sivan’s cancer involves a “fat tumor / feeding on the brain, burning from the center / out,” you pay closer attention to the excruciating final lines that replicate Sivan’s medical condition in their description of what happens inside the movie theater after the projectionist falls asleep during a Grace Kelly movie, with

film
sticking, flap, flap, then stuck, no one to turn the lamp off ,
small ghosts of smoke, a black hole starting at the center
of the frame (the Big Bang must have looked like that),
flame eating outward at the curling edges, spreading,
Grace swallowed slowly by the widening fire, then gone,
the film snaps, bringing down an avalanche of light,
the sun’s flood a billion years from now, earth sucked
into the flames, lurid, omnivorous, the whole room
stunned and silvered with it, shadows peeled away,
each gray scarf, each shawl of darkness lifted, the audience
revealed in all their nakedness, their uncoveredness
and soiled humanity, among the candy wrappers,
condoms, butts, crushed Dixie cups, as we wait for Grace
to reappear. . .and for Sivan.

Tense shifts abound in this slow-motion moment that lasts from Genesis to the Apocalypse. Grace Kelly’s given name acquires mythic significance, as does that of Sivan—which means “spring season,” the Hebrew equivalent of our “May” or “June,” girls’ given names.

As the saying goes, “Even Homer nodded.” Certain poems here, most notably “Hart Crane in Havana,” strike me as not entirely successful experiments. And in places Fairchild can be lachrymose, melodramatic, sanctimonious. But “Hume,” “The Deer,” “Madonna and Child, Perryton, Texas, 1967,” “Moth” and the hilarious “Final Exam” would be faves in any Introduction to Poetry course—along with “Frieda Pushkin” and the über-magnificent title poem. I like to think of this book as striving to rebuild Hart Crane’s “The Bridge.” Insofar as the way it handles the Gold family during the 1950s and after 9/11, I think of it as somehow Salingeresque. “The Cottonwood Lounge” and “What He Said” are amazing syntactic tours de force. As Fairchild himself might exclaim, “I mean, for God’s sake”!

Regarding the book’s cover art, a detail from Edward Hopper’s moody masterpiece, “New York Movie”: Many poets in Fairchild’s generation had fallen in love with Hopper’s paintings even before Lloyd Goodrich came out with his mega-book in connection with a Hopper exhibition at the Whitney Museum in the early 1970s. Up until now I’ve associated Fairchild’s work with paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield and Thomas Eakins—though never Grant Wood. Well, Hopper’s “New York Movie” is a thing of beauty and a joy to see, as ever. It’s a perfect fit for “Usher.”

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James Reiss, whose surname rhymes with “peace,” has had poems in such places as The Atlantic, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, Slate and Virginia Quarterly Review. His most recent book is “Riff on Six: New and Selected Poems.” His personal Web site is http://www.jamesreiss.com/

Gently Curved Roads: Aleathia Drehmer on Shaindel Beers’ A Brief History of Time


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A Brief History of Time, Shaindel Beers, Salt Publishing

A Brief History of Time by Shaindel Beers reveals her tensions at the duplicity of her life which finds her sometimes stuck back on the Midwestern farm of her childhood, still struggling to shed the air of baled hay and sweat from her existence, to the cold and calculated marks left by the city she always longed to be in. The temptation and memories of home, no matter how bittersweet, are never fully released by Shaindel.

This is Shaindel Beers’ first full length collection of poetry and Salt Publishing could not have done a better job in its presentation. The high gloss cover depicts the essence of the prairie with fields and a windmill all encased by barbed wire. There is blue sky for miles and the edges of the book are faintly branded with a repeated Art Nouveau design. The title is done in a beautiful script that invokes the feeling that a feather quill was used. All of these visual cues set the tone for the reader before they even open the book that their journey will lead them to distant, but familiar lands with surprises tucked into the periphery.

Shaindel has several recurring themes in A Brief History of Time and they are masterfully intertwined to take you on an adventure through her childhood and her impressionable years living in the Midwest which are laced with quiet longing to be somewhere else, to really see if the grass is greener on the other side.

This theme becomes evident in the poem “Elegy for a Past Life” where Shaindel speaks of the curse of every young person stuck in a small town, let alone rural America where you know more livestock than you do people. This poem is rich in capturing the idea of escapism both figuratively and literally. There is something sad about it that tastes of unrealized hope:

“Back then at sixteen
I thought we’d make it out together,
And become writers, the only job we could imagine
Where we wouldn’t smell like shit or hay or cows

But too many months passed when I didn’t bleed
And when we were safe, the test negative
And burned in the rubbish heap behind the barn,
You left, too afraid of being trapped
In a cornfield town
To wait for me.”

and in the poem “Why Gold-digging Fails” we find young girls wanting above and beyond what they have, desiring fancy, well-to-do boyfriends, because a good and honest man never seems to do when they are in the thick of the moment:

“and there was that odd moment of recognition
and fumbling for words
when quantum theory hit me and I realized
if we’d tried harder instead of merely flirting
in parking lots at the beach and the Dairy Queen
and the drive-in that sold gallons of homemade root beer
either of us could be that chubby blonde woman
with the fat baby”

Along this gently curved road through her life, Shaindel explores very touching episodes of love and loss. She looks acutely at her own misgivings as a wife and girlfriend, and all the while staying true to the fact that she wishes she could erase these blemishes of character. In the poem that captures the book’s title, “A Brief History of Time”, we see prime example of this idea:

“I’m no good at this love thing

nonetheless, I keep trying, like the benchwarmer
who begs to be sent in and is carried out crushed every time.
I wish just once someone would
cry out from the stands, Quit putting her in there.”

In the poem “First Love”, there is a tenderness that is wrapped in aloofness about love. It is as if she cannot allow herself to connect with him personally, to show how vulnerable her love is, so she focuses on things that can be mended, on things that give results:

“I’d fold his hands in mine
Like folding sugar into butter
And lead him past my disapproving parents
To my makeshift triage
Under the fluorescent buzz of bathroom lights.”

Shaindel’s piece “Rebuttal Evidence” shows how distant from love she has to stay in order to maintain emotional survival. It feels like she tries to save the rest of us from her inability to materialize love, to let us off the hook for possibly feeling this way as well:

“Maybe this is my abstract way of loving,
Which I didn’t ask for, but which seems to have always been my way—
That existential struggle between the self and other—
the way I never see where I end and begin in relation to the world,
which somehow always seems to puzzle or offend.”

Perhaps her greatest achievements come in her keen observation of the interaction of people and how the human condition is lost on many. In my favorite poem in this collection, “Triptych….The Light, The End, The Light”, the title suggests that there will be three defined sections to this piece, but the lines of separation are thin and one must read carefully to find them. The poem starts out surreal and gives us the first light:

“I slide into the soil.
The metallic taste of dirt fills me—
nose, mouth, and lungs. Days pass.
A sharp stab of light wakes me
when a shovel breaks ground, just missing
my head. It is little Jimmy Millican,
from next door, attempting again,
to dig to China.”

and “the end” is something quite moving, but no less tragic than if a bomb went off in the center of town. The character’s misery steady and shouldered the best it can be:

“Stop fucking around Jimmy—It’s not
funny! That astounding sound of loneliness
when the first shovelful of dirt
hit your mother’s coffin—“ but he trails off,
train of thought lost in a cloud of numbness.
Jimmy reaches down, pulls me out—
his father’s gone again.”

This poem’s last light is evident. The whole piece is a small journey of losses and discovery that lead to more losses. It pulls on the heart about how hard it is to be a child and lose one parent to death and one to loneliness.

Shaindel has a firm grasp on history and science and a delicate touch to her language. Her poems are by no means simple and many are written without stanzas leaving the reader to climb each mountain of a poem and hope they are prepared for the descent. She digs into hard subjects like cancer, death, and backhanded prostitution. In this collection, some of the longer pieces tended to drag out and I wondered if less might have equaled more for me. There are touches of her academia in this book as well, as Shaindel entertains several sestinas and a grand work based on mythology called “The Calypso Diaries”.

A Brief History of Time touches so many emotional buttons for me as a woman and as a reader, and I could go on quoting tender lines and well-crafted images for hours. Shaindel’s understanding of human relationships, even the dark edges of them, puts one in the moment hoping and wishing for sunny outcomes for the characters in her poems that never really materialize, leaving the reader slightly disheartened, but feeling alive in the craft of the tale she has spun. Many of her poems linger in the heart and the mind allowing for an easy path to return to her work again and again.

Ample Substance: Maria Espinosa on Pamela Uschuk’s Crazy Love


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Crazy Love, Pamela Uschuk, Wings Press

Pamela Uschuk is the author of four volumes of poetry as well as numerous chapbooks, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Her work has been translated into a dozen languages. She has been featured at international conferences, has spent years traveling, and has taught creative writing to Native American students on reservations in the west. She is currently a professor of Creative Writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado

Her poems in this 84-page collection are dense and richly textured. The work has an improvisational quality. She may leap from a single image to contemplations far removed, winding through a trajectory of vivid memories, and reflections. Everything is grist for the mill—material that other writers might put into diaries, memoirs, or novels may be compressed into a few lines or a poem.

Nature in its many forms permeates her consciousness, from a single flower, a tomato plant, a trapped bird, to mountains, sky, ocean. This love of nature mingles with love of husband, family, and friends.

In “Saving the Cormorant on Albermarle Sound.” She writes:

Numb and saturated by spray, it is now
I love you most, love your thick purple wrist
Straining to hold the bird above hungry waves,
Love the deft gentleness of your swollen hand
That cuts brutal knots without wounding the bird
Who stares at you resolute as its barbed restraint

When finally, through the last styrene twist,
You fling the huge bird free…
We are stunned….as we paddle back to shore
Above the condemned rows of sea bass and all
Those snared in darkness we’ll never see.

Social and political concerns run throughout her work, as in “Sunday News on the Navajo Rez.”

Stopped at a gas station outside Gallup…
and a white pickup pulls up.
The woman my age, wrapped in a red Pendleton coat…
Oh you hear something about what happened up in Colorado
We trade what we know about the monster avalanche
That closed Highway 40…
We don’t have much time for news here
What with the baby goats and lambs…
her fingers
tapped out the names of her daughters, especially the last
ready to head with her company
to a desert, far across the unknown globe, where villagers
also raise goats and avalanches take the form
of a roadside waiting to explode.

“Flying Through Thunder” presents the overwhelming awareness of nature as at once a reality larger, more durable than human emotions, and at the same time tender, ephemeral as a flower. It progresses through images that stir thoughts and memories, shifting back and forth from the storm through which her plane is actually flying

From expectant sunflowers, mountain bluebirds, western meadowlarks….
the small turbo prop pitches toward glacial peaks…
I remember the way my stomach dropped as a child pumping my swing higher…
my brother dared me to jump
Bombs away. We’re hit. Jump. Jump….
How could I….foresee
that in a few years my brother would be
drafted to paratrooper school
to ruin his young knees
when he landed just off the training mark
preparing for Vietnam?
When the army found out he attended rallies, preached peace. He
was shipped to Da Nang, to dousings
with Agent Orange
to the burning of village peoples, to daily mortar attacks
and sniper fire he still fights…
Now as the plane lunges, engines
steady above the Continental Divide.
I regard razor backed ridges
older than memory
vaster than scars. They comfort me
in their lack of pity…

She is able to condense entire life stories into a few lines, as in “Bell Note” written in memory of her father.

Sometimes, Dad, there is no loneliness like an ad for the superbowl
all those coaches blunders you’d cuss out
or the lies of politicians on TV
smiling as they staggered like possums
on the sides of reasons highway…
[…]
Remember driving cross-country year
after year from Michigan to Colorado….
What did you say to Mom, who sat
knitting or reading in the back seat, when
she’d startle like a rock dove, head
jerking up at us with her shriek
“We’re going the wrong way!
That field’s on fire. It’s heading
right for us!” Maybe her delusions knew that
the fire was always heading for us, her heart,
that you’d always keep her from the flames.

With their multiple images and swift traversals of thought, her poems provide ample substance for reflection. They are best savored when read slowly, preferably several times, in order to absorb their full impact.

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Maria Espinosa is a novelist, poet, and translator. She has also has taught Creative Writing and English as a Second Language. She has published four novels, two chapbooks of poetry, and a critically acclaimed translation of George Sand’s novel, Lélia. Her novel, Longing, received an American Book Award. Dying Unfinished, her most recent novel, just published by Wings Press, deals with the characters in Longing from a different perspective.

The War Against February: Claudia Smith on Shane Jones’ novel Light Boxes


light boxes

Light Boxes, Shane Jones, Publishing Genius Press

“We sat on the hill. We watched the flames inside the balloons heat the fabric to neon colors. The children played Prediction.” so begins Shane Jones’ Light Boxes, a short novel about war, winter, child abduction, all set against a somewhere-else-in-place-and –time world. Light Boxes is 167 short pages, bound in a book small enough to fit in my rather large purse. The front and back covers are a winter scape, white against white. The book itself is filled with wintery light, teacups, and reminiscent imagery.

The novel centers around a small family; Thaddeus, a balloonist who declares war against February; Selah, his wife; and Bianca, his daughter who is taken, along with many other children in the village who keep disappearing. The story that follows is one that we’ve all grown up and read about before; the child taken, a land frozen, a land populated by villagers and their children who say portentous things. Jones’ world is beautiful in part because it is drawn from a landscape of fairytales and childhood myths. Men drink from teacups painted with tiny balloons. There are kites, cottages, professors – all familiar images and archetypes we read about as children, when we read stories about brothers and sisters tumbling into a wintery world at the back of a wardrobe. Death, as it often is in childhood, is at once fascinating and sinister, and never quite understood.

Light Boxes is a visual book, full of metaphor. When a mother shakes out a bed sheet it disintegrates into a little blizzard; balloons float into empty holes in the sky; vines and flowers and blood flow from flesh. Before I gave myself over to the imagery, I felt a bit as if I were reading myself into a Magritte painting. After awhile, the arresting imagery and metaphor became ordinary, as I settled into Jones’ dreamlike world.

Reading about the war against February, I was reminded of a beloved book from my childhood. I pulled it off the shelves of the library, and I remember that the card inside indicated it hadn’t been checked out in over a decade. The book, At The Back Of The North Wind, a children’s novel by George MacDonald, was published about a hundred years before I was born. It’s about the adventures of a small boy, and the North Wind, who is personified in a beautiful, violent, beloved woman. I was too young to understand all the Victorian symbols, and I still probably wouldn’t know all their meanings if I were to return to that fat book next week. But, like MacDonald, Jones tackles death, forgiveness, love, and futility. February is a personification of something deep within the people who populate the book. And, like MacDonald’s book, I don’t think a reader needs a key to unlock its meaning.

Each chapter in Light Boxes is a sharp, short glimpse. They move much the way flash fiction does, cutting into a larger world. Some glimpses are strikingly intimate, and certain images are repeated throughout; people are often transfixed, mouths filled with snow. Violence is often so delicate and painterly that it sneaks up on the reader lingering as dreams sometimes do.