Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Light Between by Terry Blackhawk

The Light Between
by Terry Blackhawk
Wayne State University Press, 2012
soft cover, 104 pages, $15.95

Elegiac, thoughtful, keenly aware of environment, playful. These are just a sprinkling of the words which come to mind regarding Terry Blackhawk's masterful collection of poems, The Light Between. Divorce is another word, a word linked to the elegiac. Rather than praising the lost marriage, rather than elegizing that or the man, Blackhawk manages to praise and elevate the awareness of loss, the keen return to the senses, the reawakened awareness of life's fragile fabric. In the midst of all this, there is plenty of room for wordplay.

Assonance and alliteration, internal rhyme, enjambment, these elements of Blackhawk's lines pull the reader along, or pause him, based on the patterns of thought-breaths the writer inscribes. Word play, too, helps wind up the momentum. A pattern emerges: Blackhawk juxtaposing homonyms, prefixes and suffixes, roots. The effect is a gallop with occasional jarring misstep or sharp rock to call attention to the finer detail. In "Torque Dancer," "what can / the opposable thumb oppose? His whole / body's in opposition" (Blackhawk 61). Three uses of this same word call attention to that creation of contrast in both dancer and writer. When describing concerns about tinnitus, Blackhawk's doctor claims it to be "a phantom phenomenon–lost hearing / reminding the hearer of itself–lost sounds / trying to make themselves heard" (32). The argument is circular and dizzying, much like the cochlea or "Chambered Nautilus" of the title. Best of all, these musical notes spin and swirl the tone of each poem, evoking an inner mysticism or uplifting praise in even the most mundane. Who knew a hearing test would lead back through a spiraled line of reference, landing on chambered shells, crickets, delicate evenings, a young child, memories of a lost marriage?

Thematically, a sense of loss pervades this book and renews the wells of hope. Despite the agony, there is a beauty to be found in empty bedsheets, in the space between the signified and the signifier. In "Belle Isle Solitary: New Year's Eve," Blackhawk's narrator walks alone, observing the river, a kayaker, a freighter, ice, delighting in the surprise beauty of a day on earth. It is a solitary activity, and there is a "you" with whom the poet wants to share. It is both the reader and the absent life partner alluded to in the beginning of the book's cycle. It is her other, dialogic half and Medea's Jason, missing in action, run off with a princess. The wistfulness of it all, contained within and spilling from the poet, well, "I call it mi vida, / even this loneliness, even if I carry / only half a song" (Blackhawk 42).

In "Lot's Wife" the wistful becomes more resentful and coarse with anger. The pillar of salt provides a nice double entendre, melding Biblical allusion with desire: "Drop by drop, grain by // relentless grain, salt / trickles down my corroded / breasts and thighs" (Blackhawk 55). Decay and loss is still the pervading theme, the devouring sentiment, even as needs persist. Goals, once seemingly so simple to achieve, evade our grasp, and "I've no magic / to turn mirage to marriage / again" (Blackhawk 55). By linking mirage and marriage through alliteration and consonance and spelling, the notion of illusion rings out. And how is it, then, that we (re)build relationships? It is disturbing at closer examination: the devastating desire for union which transforms one to salt, all in pursuit of a shimmering, unobtainable haze on the horizon. It is youthful idealism; "Once I believed in / the sweetness of salt. // Now all I know is its burn, / its millions of tiny flames" (Blackhawk 56). It is an all consuming pain, and it is enough to make one want to turn toward the four noble truths.

Thankfully, Blackhawk's poems are filled with the renewal possible in life. The natural world, the birds and ever renewing life cycles which surround us, provide the hope of simply what is. Blackhawk allows those truths into her heart, and those truths seep through the poems reassuringly. "How soft / And suggestible we are, to let the mere notion / Of a thing tremble in us" (Blackhawk 77). And how vulnerable we are to allow ourselves to actually believe in our own creation, our own notions and desires. In the end, Blackhawk returns to the green canopy of trees, to the birds and the breeze. There, in the natural world, in "the nothing that is" (Stevens), lies a no-mind renewal. There, "Beyond the margin of trees, / clouds carry our names" (Blackhawk 85). That ethereal truth, ever slipping away as we observe it, might just be enough.

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