Sunday, April 27, 2008

Poetry pick: Furious Lullaby

…while we soaked in grace from the blue
light of stained glass. We were a river of blessings.

Starting with "Holiness," Furious Lullaby, by Oliver de la Paz, draws the reader immediately into the currents of God, the Devil, and a treasured string of mornings.

The poems in the book are presented within a structure of aubades, essays, and letters, giving us "Aubade with the Moon, Some Bones, and a Word," "Penitence Essay," and "My Dearest Apostasy."

I first noticed and admired this structure because it provides such a solid framework—solid, providing a sort of comfort, and yet open, more like a lattice, with room in the interstices for exploration, experimentation. That, and it's a book full of poems about morning.

Yet Mr. de la Paz does not flinch from language. He combines mystic images with more scientific, or more Latinate, terms without stumbling syntactically. Instead of seeming out of place, a verbal jolt, the words fit with precision, as though turning a key for the reader. Consider this from "Flutter":

…Ash-mouthed and mischievous,
their wicked beaks full of hair. If we kept disintegrating

into the sound of wings, we would be shoeboxes of dust by morning.

Or the first stanza of "My Dearest Recklessness,":

We'd be in danger of splitting our loves into tertiary sequences.
You'd get the bigger piece and I would go on,
housed in my difficult sack-of-a-commotion.

Or these lines from "Aubade with Constellations, Some Horses, and Snow":

Their helices of in-breath tick,
whole owls of flame. The field turns
like naphthalene—skins and snow.

The aubades read like a series of poems to the beloved—sometimes a lover, sometimes perhaps an old friend or an aging parent. The poems contain the sadness or longing one may feel at dawn or even before then, when the Moon still reigns in the sky—and the images, palpable, unveil in layers a great tenderness, as in these lines from "Aubade with a Book and the Rattle from a String of Pearls":

yet you would not speak about things such as age
and the body gestures that come to claim your mornings.
Neck-sure, arm-sure, I think about you and your book
coming to some agreement…some place of rest.

and later:

Each room carried us from clock to clock. Each tick
an earful about ourselves. God knows,
the way night moves its shoes from side to side
or how day wrestles syllables from us in our sleep.

Then, just when you think this is a quiet book, Mr. de la Paz throws in "What the Devil Said":

Lo! A jigger of wine
fills itself to the brim.
Heat I give you and a fifth rib…

As I said, Mr. de la Paz does not flinch from language or from love, sorrow, or loss. He confronts them, embraces them, pierces them, as in "Fury":

…Poetry makes us bastards.
My dead cousins…my wounded relations

sleep in phosphorescence. A canopy of stars
endless beyond the ginkgo, shine apocryphal
on language I dredge in safety, not fury.

I've read these poems several times, and they've opened up new windows, new doors—possibilities of language, image, of how a book can be made and how a living can live on the page.

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