Stop #3 on the Read Write Poem Virtual Book Tour. I know the admin folks at RWP are on Pacific time, so to them this might appear three hours early, but it's September 3rd here. Trust me ;)
Lisa Ciccarello's chapbook At Night, the Dead haunts the mind of the reader just as the dead haunt the poems in the collection. There is a tight, almost claustrophobic quality to many of the poems; the reader is located immediately within, inside, while the dead seem to hover just outside. The first poem establishes this enclosure at the outset: “You lock the door. You lock the window. You dream of the dead. You salt the sills from the inside. You are going to dream.” The dead will appear in your dreams, regardless of the precautions you take.
The dead move slowly inside as the poems move forward. By the end of the collection “you” have disappeared and the dead have taken up residence. “The dead set up the house they remember, but it is not as they remember,” and even more disturbing, in the very last stanza, the first person has now joined the dead: “We reach for salt in the empty salt box. Missing from the kitchen what could keep us from the house…Our mouths draw close. The flame does not flicker.” All the salt, all the locks, have not kept the dead away.
The poems in this chapbook are short, some only a line or two long. Although I confess to not making much literal sense of the collection, the images are distinct and evocative. Unsettled dichotomies and conflicts of darkness and light, water and salt, dirt and diamonds, heat and home and love and paper and fruit fill the pages, but ultimately fail to make a concerted whole. This may have been the poet’s conscious intention; the mood is certainly constant throughout, but there is no recognizable narrative. Some other choices are hard to explain, such as the use of “yr” instead of “your” in some (but not all) of the poems. Another choice the author makes is that each poem is titled “At night, the dead” or some variation thereof. While this functions very well in terms of reinforcing a mood and a set of images, it makes it difficult to identify particular poems for commentary.
Overall, the chapbook is moody, dark, and haunting; the language is lovely and redolent with images (my favorites are “the sky smells like tea, the sky smells like timber and steam” and “the dark is a black bag where the eyes are kept”).* If you are looking for straightforward narrative poetry, you won’t find it here, but if you’re looking for a unique point of view and a quirky, creepy, set of poems, you will enjoy this chapbook immensely.
Get your handmade copy of At Night, the Dead
* from the second poem “At night, inside the house, the dead:” and the poem on page 16 called “At night, the dead:”