Thursday, January 10, 2008

Paradise poet on the hard realities of life—and death


The poetry of Paradise author Elizabeth A. Bernstein is not exactly sweetness and light. Words from just two pages of her newest collection include “cursed,” “famine,” “bitter.” Somber words that match somber times. The winds of chaos engulfing the world (only a slight exaggeration) need those who can imagine something better to push against the force. But it requires great fortitude.

“Walk Into the Wind” is a little paperback from Pine Cone Ridge Press. (For information on price please write the publisher at P.O. Box 94, Paradise, CA 95967-0094.) The first selection gives the book its title and even a kind of hope:

Walk into the wind

Conquer fear

as it flees the storm’s mouth

drowns the deep ocean’s roar.

Watch light

drink its last breath

as the mind’s eye goes dark.

Heed the star

that illuminates wisdom

stirring the far reach of thought. . . .

There is much that requires our fortitude. In “Suicide Bomber” the poet writes: “I bequeath you, O world, a spiraling / rage that spreads like cancer // From violated space / fueling pain and more pain. . . .” In “Baghdad,” the focus is on the “city of a thousand gardens”: “Falsehood batters down your doors, / forked tongues deny rumors of greed, // Rivers flee firestorms of iniquity, / palm trees tremble even as they sleep. . . .” Yet the city will “triumph over destiny” as “The Faithful reach out their hands, / welcome you to the banquet of tomorrow.”

No one in this panoply of misery is spared, yet even in the midst of “demons dancing frenzied killing fields” (in “Tibet – A Tribute”) there is something “Beyond the melted edge of memory - / healing the wounds of blasted innocence - / your prayer wheels turn on singing silences. / You breathe again the deep, blue Infinite / where your spirit soars another sky.” In “Volcano,” “A spirit issues / from the throes of death // Becomes life.” In “On Eating Flesh,” there is “One cell / Countless galaxies / One Great Spirit.”

The poet remembers the songs from the old country (“Melodies carried in suitcases”), even (in “Time Passing”) in “The splintered hours / and the cries that fall from them.”

And now, at the end, the wind is a friend. In “Last Request,” “Let me / Cling to the last sense / That leaves us as we leave // Hearing - / Hearing the wind / That oldest keening // Hearing / Sibelius / Finlandia . . . // Hearing eternity.”

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