EILEEN TABIOS Engages
Sister, Blood and Bone by Paula Cary
(Blood Pudding Press, Ohio, 2013)
Oh I really really like Paula Cary’s chap, Sister, Blood and Bone! Its poems contain the paradox of garnets—stones for, say, jewelry but ever evoking blood. Jewels that should be pretty but end up with other significances besides decorativeness.
Cary dedicates the collection to her “one and only sister, Lisa Cary, [her] muse.” So the poems could be autobiographical but what’s more of a concern to the reader who doesn’t know the Cary sisters is that the narrator references a sister. Still, one pays attention to how the dedication mentions that the poet has only “one and only sister.” One wonders about that relationship—the implied closeness and what might grow from such—because part of what makes these poems so effective are the dualities they offer. Like the little matchboxes that contain both “death, [and] rebirth” in “Bone Collector.” Or the last stanza of “Sacrificial Breakfast”:
The platter of pig meat, wrinkled and red
The eyes of eggs mixed into white
The plate of sustenance
Provided by the death of harmless animals
I also love how some poems, while loving, are not sentimental. That’s a good enough combo, except that Cary ups the juice to actually end up in nothing less than rapture! Like this poem with its absolutely killer concluding stanza that testifies to a humongous sisterly and protective love as mere “street” becomes the more dangerous “rushing creeks / Mountainous, slippery terrain / … jagged, deep ravines”:
You hate to look both ways
Before crossing the street
And you don’t want
To hold my hand for safety
So I offer you a hooked pinky
And you, already knowing the full value
Of the “pinky swear,”
Take hold with your own pinky
We cross rushing creeks
Mountainous, slippery terrain
Jump jagged, deep ravines
With pinkies the only safety latch between us
And I love how other poems make my bones wince (yes, bones, not merely flesh as the effect goes deep)—except that I’m wincing with delight. It’s that paradoxical effect—you know, you’re thinking: that’s a tad perverse and yet being highly amused. Like this
After the Dive in Troy Springs
You are bloodless white
From the frigid depths
Your lips a literal blue
They match your eyes
And I think of sugar skulls
Dressed in colored frosting
That could match your face
And I wonder
Should I bring a blanket
To warm you
And risk losing those colors?
Beauty costs, eh?
Also worth noting is that the cover features a reproduction of a skeleton in make-up, hat, some voluminous dress—evoking the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos. Less than six degrees of Googling surfaces that the image is one of La Calavera Catrina (“Dapper Skeleton”), which the ubiquitous Wikipedia notes is “ a 1910–1913 zinc etching by famous Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator and lithographer Jose Guadalupe Posada. The image depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time. Her chapeau originally is related to French and European styles of the early 20th century. She is meant to portray a satirization of those Mexican natives who Posada felt were over embracing European traditions of the aristocracy in the pre-revolutionary era. She in particular, has become an icon of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.”
Referencing Day of the Dead is apt, for me, because I’ve often found charming the skeleton figurines in various outfits used to celebrate this holiday. I find them cute, and yet they’re skeletons, something that would normally scare or repel someone (okay, me). But I don’t find myself repelled by these dressed-up skeletons. Similarly, I don’t find myself repelled by various details in some of Cary’s poems.
Instead, I am attracted to these poems for their beauty and charm, notwithstanding—or maybe, in addition to—their rather eerie facets. Like how the collection’s last poem, “My One and Only Lisa” (there’s that reference again to “one and only” sister) ends with this line:
The lava is always flowing just behind her feet.
Ultimately, these poems (I sense) can only be written by someone who can look at the world in unique ways. Here, for instance, is the chap’s first poem:
Advice For A Sister Going to College
For Lisa Cary
Bring something to remind you
Of who you are
Beginning to end,
Top to bottom.
For you, these will be skeletons
Not of Dia de Los Muertos
But brown and brittle bones,
Fragments, shells of birds, tortoises
Reminders of how futile
And fleeting life is
For a cave diver.
Instead, a wetsuit
Placed among the party dresses
A black seal-skinned hood
Amongst the cotton hooded sweatshirts.
Now, that is not the typical advice one would give to someone going to college, but it is sagacious for not just school but also all of life—that, too, is poetry.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. But she is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza at OurOwnVoice; and her 2004 book MENAGE A TROIS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, was reviewed (along with Joi Barrios' poetry) through the essay "The Self Revolution of Radical Love--Externalizing Internal Worlds of Freedon in Filipina Poetry" by Michaela Spangenburg at OurOwnVoice. Eileen invites you to her new blog, EILEEN VERBS BOOKS; poets are invited to participate in three of its features: "Poetry and Money," "What Are You Reading?" and "What Do You Re-Read?"