Thursday, March 02, 2006
Skyway poet writes of 'dangerous places in our dangerous time'
By DAN BARNETT
Paradise writer and "Skyway poet" Sally Allen McNall won the State Street Press competition for her chapbook, "How To Behave At the Zoo and Other Lessons"; her book manuscript, "Rescue," received the Backwaters Press Prize.
Now, in a new chapbook, "Trying to Write a Poem Without the Word Blood In It" ($6 in paperback from PWJ Publishing, www.wellinghamjones. com), McNall harnesses poetic energy to cry out against the absurdities and injustices she sees all around. The poems do have a lot of blood in them--the bloodshed of war, the bloodshed of a poet whose only refuge seems to be in a dream "where no one hates you, there's no impossible job to attempt." True to the typo on the front cover, hers is a "work" of blood.
The first of the 18 poems here sets the tone. "Before This War Is Over" is not about our present conflicts (or is it?) but takes the reader back to the days of Vietnam. "The young mother knows what she / has just done" in hiding the news from her son. She "knows she'll deceive / her little boy as long as she can about how / blood pumps out, or blooms purple under / skin, and how perfect strangers will spit / on you." Why? "She wants her son to remember peace" but "this is hopeless. ... And rage / is splashing up and down / her skin like ten gallons of gasoline / and any grownup / could be the match."
The final poem, "Quill," reminds the reader how hard it is to forget.
We don't decide what to remember. The brain's master etchers
do their best work for the disaster, for war, rage, shame.
The rapist surges like a troll from under the bridge, grabs,
grapples. The girl can't forget a second of it for years.
No matter how safe we feel just before it happens, or how
we've drilled ourselves to be calm, the world takes us.
I don't believe in angels, but it amuses me to think each of us has
a recording angel, our personal chemist and electrician--impartial,
lacking fellow-feeling, dipping her quill in our rushing blood
or hacking, keystroke by keystroke into our hearts, tattoos and operas.
SAVE, she commands, SAVE, SAVE, and we are helpless,
we bear her art forward in us, into our darkness, into our light.
In the poem that gives the chapbook its title, the writer imagines watching a movie backwards and imagines blood returning into a person and the wound closing. And then she writes, "... I have lost a lot to this / century, I am exhausted, I would like it back, / scooped, sopped up, suctioned from wherever it is, / and siphoned back in me, for future use."
The poet had "A Welcome To the Real World" long years ago. "I was 17, it was still the '50s, / when one college teacher pried up one / little corner of what this country / officially believed-- believes-- / about itself. We were reading the / Communist Manifesto in order / to learn what was wrong with it. I don't / remember exactly what he said / that made me think he liked Marx. // I thought of him today, / while preparing the kitchen floor / for the new tiles. / The floor looked like the black / bed of a bad road leading out of some city where / everyone hates us-- with some reason-- / where it's not sensible for me to talk / alone or in company, in any dress."
The despair and anger in these poems is at times relieved by ironic whimsy, from the "recording angel" to the time when "The Last Secular Linguist Leaves Her Spiderhole" (what a title) who wonders, if "God be with you!" eventually became "good-bye," what "God bless you!" will become.
But even "Going To the Theatre" brings back crimson thoughts. "In Shakespeare's really bad play, the girl is raped, / her hands chopped off, her tongue cut out. ... / Today, around the world, long streets fill / with the spoken word peace. Once the lips / part from the initial sound, the tongue flattens, / pulls back, the lips stretch wide before / the final hiss, tongue pointed at teeth. Silent, / we leave the play, we dream real blood."
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.