Arsenic Lobster poetry journal
Issue Twenty-five
Spring 2011
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Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu
Arlene Ang

Cinnamon Press, 2008
36 pp
ISBN: 978-1-907090-06-6

Read poems by Arlene Ang previously published in Arsenic Lobster

Issue Twenty-two Spring 2010      "We should all eat lobster"
Issue Seventeen Summer 2008       "Alopecia and the grizzly bear"
Issue Seventeen Summer 2008       "mortality: a study"

A black-gowned cellist bows a stormy wake for a white shrouded image of herself, half sucked into (half spewed from?) a heavy Pandora’s box-like chest/coffin…

The cover of Arlene Ang’s fifth collection alerts me to the unquiet read that follows. I’m drawn in by the poet’s surreal treatments of darkened slidings away of light, in poems that narrate the peculiar numbness which permeates the first days following a death.

In a room empty of anyone but a dead woman, Dusk leads the sun away for its own good.

Elsewhere, The gathering dusk squeezes / the farmhouse into another world.

In the home of a new widow, The chandelier has two bulbs / flickering a heartbeat against the walls.

In another room, The lights have gone out / the way a chameleon’s tongue / furls back into its mouth.

Surrealist images grab – evocations of the I-know-this-is-not-a-dream-but-it-feels-as-if-it-were-a-dream sense of unreal which descends when we’re confronted with unbearable loss:

Like a mother, the clock wipes its face over and over / with its hands

…The windows appear / to sink in the tall grass. Someone is crying

…hear how the house / creaks from the burden / of holding itself together.

Here too, is exquisite sadness; sadness so acute, so stiletto-sharp I cannot linger, must skim and return, read a little more, escape and so on, until I’m able to bear a share of the pain:

A father, morning after morning, paints one of dozens of portrayals of the crucifixion in an attempt to somehow reach his dead son. Every three a.m. / he wakes up, and the suffering is different.

An old widower (this poem, as did the one I referred to above, broke my heart) dresses, in his black suit, for his wife’s funeral. He is alone in their home which is empty of her but alive with her memory, and already showing signs of her absence.

The porch is bathed in sun, unlikely hymn
for cancelled spring. The floorboards creak on my
way out. Too tight, I feel old fabric tear.

Equally difficult to read, vivid poems of the aftermath of motor vehicle accidents. Here, the understated anguish of the narrator who has survived a deadly car crash, her passenger not:

                                       …I was behind
the wheel, bent like a kitchen utensil,
crying for the hole you left in the windshield.
All around, the slivers of euthanasia

And the devastatingly emotionless narration:

Here’s the sum of a girl’s life:
mini-skirt, ecstasy, blue scooter,
shattered brick wall, blood on asphalt.
All bought with her allowance.

Ang also includes a group of nine sonnenizio in the collection, and when she writes four poems in the form, all based on the same line (in this case, The baby crying. Gulls and North Sea air, a line from Merryn Williams), they become method to explore, to tease out all the possibilities. In these four, the borrowed line develops variously into a newborn baby abandoned by its mother at the seashore, a new mother on a ferry who has just learned of a death, the just-widowed mother of a crying baby, a mother responding with her full breast in the back of a taxi to the hungry cries of her baby.

Arlene Ang has crafted poems of bereavement and of anguish; her poetry is turbulent, surreal, beautiful. I can’t stay long – confronted, too vividly, by old pain I thought I’d covered with protective scabs. But I can’t resist returning either – her poetry is an affirmation that death, as part of life, is magnificent too:

                 …Dying is a universe of its own.
Your eyes fill with the sun. You close them now.

Moira Richards
About Moira Richards

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