Monday, November 11, 2019

THE SMALL DOOR OF YOUR DEATH


I sit on the sun porch of my home in New Iberia writing the review of a book about a tragic death, hoping that wherever the tortured soul of this addicted son in Sheryl St. Germain’s The Small Door of Your Death now resides, he’s no longer allergic to sunlight, as his grieving mother once supposed... and I pray that his mother no longer feels “night everywhere in me.”

This volume from the former Louisiana Writer of the Year, 2018, is a chronicle of St. Germain’s beloved son Gray’s death, by addiction and her subsequent grief —it is expressed in both tribute and lament…but does not fall into the realm of the maudlin. Surprisingly, St. Germain, like all mothers of addicts… perhaps like all mothers… gives voice to Dickinsonian hope that “never stops at all"; e.g., in “Feral”: “All you once hoped to be/still lights your face, though:/it is almost a holy light/you are trying to be a good man/you are trying to live in this world you hate/I love that you still care enough/to pretend to be/the one I named,/hoped to birth.”

In Section 3 of this volume, St. Germain tells the reader how a witnessing mother struggles with grief and her own addiction, literally stitching her fractured Self through sewing a blanket “of the most sumptuous yarns, each a/slightly different shade of gray: blue-gray, reddish-gray, silver gray, a/gray that’s almost black…and I wish I could have stitched your/wounds as confidently as I do this blanket…” St. Germain has developed a keen interest in textiles and quilt-making as part of her recovery from addiction and grief and recently visited Oaxaca City Mexico, where textile making flourishes, to help her further a second career in Textiles.

The 4th Section of The Small Door brings readers to an agonizing visualization of Sheryl viewing the body of her dead son, a dark place of realization:  “never again your body, never this vessel through which I knew you.” But she finds herself “In A Church Two Weeks After Your Death,” where she confesses, “I don’t believe, but here I am lighting a candle./She had a son too, I suddenly remember,/could do nothing/for his suffering.” Of all the Mary poems in the lexicon of poets, this one impressed me with its authentic voice, the voice of a suffering mother who is left with her son’s ashes and regrets. Here is acknowledgement of spiritual doubt, of a self-crucifixion without resurrection, again taking St. Germain to the place of “night everywhere in me.”

This volume doesn’t just trickle out and into mothers’ hearts; it touches a sometimes unexpressed deep sadness as in “Summer Solstice, 2015”: “Today, I’ll walk another day without you./I’ll carry you in me, like before you were born,/on these walks.” However, after her son has been dead seven months, in “At the Keukenhof*,” St. Germain finds resolution in viewing the color red where tulips remind her of her son’s laugh, and she expresses that she wishes she had brought him to this country she’s visiting because he had loved intensity and “would have felt it in these flowers…”

St. Germain’s “ode” to those tulips is the redeeming lyric in which she “step[s] into the sun/ step[s] into the light…” “See,” she writes, “I would have said, tulips that look like ballerinas,/fringed and frilled tulips, multi-colored parrot tulips, double peony tulips,/star-shaped tulips, lacy, open petals, thick, bold petals…” 

Here, in powerful, raw lyrics, a mother creates poetry from inevitable loss. Here, readers stand with her at the edge of a formidable chasm where she voices sadness, hope, despair, return to life, and, most of all, love. As I wrote in an e-mail to St. Germain: This collection of pain and passion reminds me of one of my own poems addressed to a daughter. “I am surprised at how agony/and tenderness/resemble one another."

*The Netherlands

Saturday, November 9, 2019

PINYON REVIEW #16


This is the first Pinyon Review without Gary Entsminger, former editor and publisher, at the helm, but Susan Entsminger, his wife who is co-editor and publisher of this journal, hasn’t missed a beat in her “troubadour’s” (as she calls Gary) song, launching the new edition with excerpts from Gary’s poems that appear in Two Miles West. Susan Entsminger poses rhetorical questions about her talented husband who died in early fall, then answers them in “The Troubadour Sings A Love Song”; e.g., “Was it the parents’ country guitars that first vibrated at a frequency which awakened in Gary that silver thread of Jungian collective memory, the Castanedaian glimmering energy with that which frees us from ourselves so that we might glimpse the source of Plato’s shadows on the cave wall and hear the songs of our ancestors?…”  She also acknowledges writers and artists who have appeared in the pages of his brainchild, The Pinyon Review: “…Gary’s imagination and quest for truth are alive in his sculpted prose, his guitar improvisations, and the exceptional family of artists we call Pinyon. The Troubadour sings love songs.”

Readers are also given a glimpse of Gary and Susan’s work in progress, Egypt ’78, in which the characters Rosalina and Robinson have decided to embrace fiction and non-fiction simultaneously. “They had invented characters, who themselves had ideas about their lives, and she would meet and talk to them here in the cottage or garden, on the hillside, by the ocean, at Robinson’s tower…” I don’t know how much copy of this co-authored work Gary and Susan had achieved, but I feel sure Susan will honor her talented husband by completing the manuscript. At one point following Gary’s death, she told me that his spirit still lives in the canyon near their cabin in Colorado. “I asked Gary the other night:/Do you miss talking?… I think he said:/What does it look like where you are?” she writes in this issue of Pinyon Review.

Toni Ortner, a newcomer to Pinyon, writes about grief in a brief poem entitled “How to think about grief": “It is futile to ask when it will subside…Grief is water running down a mountainside. The rivulet twists/ and turns through every nook around every rock and crevice. It/cuts like a knife into the dirt and washes away the leaves plants/and pebbles. It becomes a stream. Season after season it slices/and chops the dirt to silt. Then it is a river./Dream whatever you want it will make no difference.” Although this poem has an “inevitable” quality, the transcendent tone of nature somehow provides soothe to readers.

When readers turn the page, they will discover new life in “Baby Lucy’s Quilt,” a display of quilts that Laurel Brody, A Chinese Medicine practitioner, co-created for the arrival of a friend’s baby. Along with friends of the parents, she embroidered, and others machine quilted the vibrant quilt with purple edgings that inspired the parents to paint the infant’s room a matching shade of purple. Brody writes: “The process nourishes. The outcome is tangible and lasts through the years. There’s a reason women have been doing this for generations.” 

Diane Vreuls returns to Pinyon with three works, including a poem entitled “Fifth Grade.” I could readily identify with this bit of nostalgia as I’ve often said that life, for me, began in the third grade. Vreuls takes readers back fifty years, bringing alive amusing and comforting memories: “…Carol got to do the shamrock because she was Catholic./We watched it sun out the windows. Watched it cloud,/rain, snow. It was always warm in the room. Nothing bad/ever happened. No one was sick for long, or moved away./It’s been over 50 years now. I close my eyes: there’s my desk,/the children reading aloud, the rocking chair,/Mrs. Fern…” Vreuls treats readers to a profound recollection using evocative concrete detail. A former professor at Oberlin College in Ohio, she has also published short stories, children’s literature, and poetry. 

The photographs of Fabrice Poussin, arresting scenes in Oregon and Utah, showcase the work of an artist whose work has gained recognition in over 200 art and literature magazines in the U.S. and abroad. In his “A Gentle Dream,” the photograph captures a dusty road that curves around a rock formation and perhaps suggested to Gary “the turn beyond” when he was reviewing work for this issue that was initiated while he was still alive. Gary was always mystically inclined, sought harmony in nature, and engaged in philosophical searches. Poussin’s work centers on western landscapes in both black and white and color, taking readers “beyond the gate,” the title for his art contribution.

Susan described this issue aptly in her opening summary: “a fifth-grade classroom, the light touch of a friend, mystery deep in hemlock roots, radiator clank echoing clinking rings, an overgrown orchard, mountain meadow, embracing bodies, dusty trail…the liberating spaces of the mind’s eye, perhaps a small tickle of a deeply repressed memory…”

Pinyon #16 is a meet tribute to Gary Entsminger, “the troubadour” whose life mission was to celebrate the arts and sciences and whose wife Susan continues the mission. I also have a poem in this issue and appreciate the recognition as one of Pinyon’s “family.” 


Available at Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403. 


Saturday, November 2, 2019

MIGRARÉ


I looked for my CD of “In A Persian Market” by William Ketelbey this morning so I could play it while I wrote about Darrell Bourque’s newest book of poetry, migraré,  because the volume is a beautiful collection of ghazals evoking memories of my sojourn in Persia during the 1970’s. However, I did not find the CD and had to rely on the music playing in my mind as I re-read the arresting couplets that accompany Bill Gingles’s abstract art.

Bourque uses this ancient form of poetry familiar to readers of Rumi and Hafez, two poets with whom I became fascinated while living in Persia, and in this collection, he addresses the subject of immigration — migraré or “I will move”( in Spanish), referring to mass movements of people either for survival, or for life-threatening reasons, or as messengers called to divine purposes.

Bourque “moves into” the ghazals through the medium of ekphrasis wherein a poet creates a poem by looking at images and builds around “tensions, composition, line, color, and the theater created in expressionistic artworks,” according to Bourque. 

Bourque derives his poems from his experience involving the Immigration Team from Narrative 4, a story exchange program designed to foster empathy and break down barriers among students worldwide, equipping them to improve their communities and the world. Storytellers from around the world met in Arnaudville, Louisiana, where Bourque encountered carriers of the ghazal. He seems to be continually inspired by experiences that explore the histories of people deeply affected by separation and immigration; e.g., his own ancestry dating back to the 19th century when Acadians were expelled from France and Acadie. In a passionate “Foreword,” he writes that humans “must be vigilant and not separate themselves from each other in destructive and debilitating ways…”

Readers enter the sphere of Bourque’s ghazals with poems like “Division Stream,” which I felt was among the finest in this collection and featured his great-grandmother. Lines like 

…When great imperceptibles come to live with you
and you cannot travel far enough to get away, you swim daily in your division stream… 

Taken as a whole, the ghazal impresses readers with Bourque’s philosophical gifts translated (maybe migrated) into poetic form. 

She arrived one day with a small satchel and all her belongings and no husband.
What took him from her she couldn’t even begin to know. Death’s a division stream… 

However, ever the master of sensuality, he describes his great-grandmother’s separations as: 

turn[ing] to clabbers and soft cheeses spread on biscuits in the morning,
with mayhaw jellies and blackberries she picked while praying into the division stream… 

Bourque really “gets with it,” in contemporary language, as he launches into “Sun Choir” (Christ the King Bellevue Choir): 

I sit in one of the back rows with my wife, near Henry Amos. We couldn’t be higher.
There are no names on pews here. I hum. My wife sings out. It, too, is her sun choir. 

I once sat next to both of them at a celebration honoring his wife’s glass work in a triptych of this church and felt the dynamism of the sun choir, so this ghazal resonated with me, and I well understood his line: 

She sings trouble over trouble every Sunday…

The poem reminded me of Rumi’s 

The sunbeam fell upon the wall;
the wall received a borrowed splendor.
Why set your heart on a piece of turf…

When I lived in the sun-baked desert of Khuzestan Province in Persia, I longed to see water: bayou, river, even the aqua blue waters of the Persian Gulf and painted a wall in the dining room of our home a deep blue. I was taken back to that time of blueness when I read Bourque’s “Second Self,” his description of Vermeer’s blue as a way of “finding ways to second self… one self seeking another self…” My own immersion in a blue wall in Ahwaz, Iran led to a self seeking another self in that mysterious mideastern environment to which I had migrated. Expatriates to any country will identify with this ghazal.

Space forces me into brevity, but I hasten to say that migraré is Bourque’s finest gift of poetry, a meditative, mystical work that will “move” readers into the divine afflatus sans forced migration, arriving through phrasings of the same tone as the mystical Persian poets. It’s a beautiful entry into contemplative practice. As I told Darrell after reading migraré “Move over, Rumi.”

As readers can see, the review is not a definitive, scholarly treatment of a beautiful book from Louisiana’s most masterful poet, but it is an appreciative salute to Louisiana’s best ambassador for the mission of celebrating difference. 


Darrell Bourque is professor emeritus in English (University of Louisiana, Lafayette) and former Poet Laureate of Louisiana. He received the 2014 Louisiana Book Festival Writer Award and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities 2019 Humanist of the Year Award, as well as the Dr. James Oliver-Monsignor Sigur Award by the Louisiana Council on Human Relations for his Social Justice work for minorities and the marginalized.