Sunday, March 07, 2010

Never Night: Poems by Derick Burleson

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 64 pages

• Publisher: Marick Press (May 2, 2008)

• Price: $14.95

• ISBN-10: 0971267650

• ISBN-13: 978-0971267657

I’m not sure anymore, I can’t quite remember: have I read poetry before? Have I? This feels like a first love, after all, a discovery, a loss of guarded chastity, to wade deep into something as yet unseen and unknown and even now, somehow, unknowable. And yet I recognize this voice as almost my own, that is, not the words, but the voice that we all keep inside, deep inside, and allow others to hear perhaps only once in a lifetime. Derick Burleson stands like a dot on the satellite screen, nearly too tiny to see, but the satellite lens zooms in, and we see, we see, for the first time, we see what we have been trying to see all along.

Such strange juxtapositions, Burleson writes. His poetry is all contrast and light against shadow, miniscule against gargantuan, silence against thunderous noise. So much of the effect is like looking through an immense telescope, from either end—at one moment spotting that tiny dot of a man, standing on a cliff, and then moving to the other end of the telescope, to gaze out into the infinite, the eternal, the ever and ever. It is almost dizzying, yet we recognize it as the gaze of an open-eyed man. Burleson sees what we all see, or are willingly blind to, or cannot bear to see: that we are here for only a moment, that we are meaningless in the very same instant that we are nearly godlike with meaning.

Remembering the wild beauty of Alaska when I was too long ago there, I wonder if it is this kind of wild beauty that can produce such a poet, such poetry. Even the title poem, “Never Night,” captures what can’t be held:

You’d like it here where
it’s never night, where the sun
circles, rather, until it ends
up where it started from,
east or west, rises, sinks
but doesn’t ever set,
where in the summer
you never need to sleep
and all day and all night
the sky is a series of blues
you’ve seen only once before,
blues van Gogh painted
at the end.

Burleson’s poems dig into loam and earth, beginning as a child just learning to separate from his mother, on all fours in the garden, even as he sinks into earth and joins his other mother—Mother Earth. He notes nature—“sand glittering alive with flecks of mica” and “the sun wanted to eat us all with joy”—but he also observes the daily grit of construction crews and Main Street as it floats away in a surreal flood, his father still seated at the floating kitchen table and watching the weather on the television set. He notes that “glass is a slow liquid” and how our own nature calls us to often break things down in order to see them built up again, or at least to see what’s inside, to understand a core value, even if it means destruction, or death, in the process. How precarious is life, yes, but how intense is our ability to love and live and survive and go on yet again.

In the poem “Late Valentines,” Burleson writes of such a profound and yet everyday love (and I dare anyone to find a woman who would not lay down all to receive such a Valentine):

If this were the last rhyme I ever write,
what should my hands choose to fabricate?
They’d spin straw into gold to bribe the fates,
stitch a bright charm against the sprain of night,

and weave one last tapestry of our tears,
so we can ache another ten thousand years.

And more:

…heaven is whatever we dream
when we sleep in the house, which has and will
continue to settle into what we become.

With uncanny ability, Burleson orders everyday words that in that particular order become an intoxicant. To pick it apart, we find only letter, alphabet, a grocery list, a car, a television set, a tree, a house, a blue window seen from space, a life, a death, yet when put just so, it becomes:

And when our talk fades, when music

is only music again, we will slowly dim,
just our eyes and the teeth of our shy smiles
still showing. We’ll go back

to our own places and finally sleep,
smug with the fierce pleasure
of knowing that soul is the particular

song we learn to sing, that our lovers
will always be gardens beside us,
blooming the colors we dream best,

graceful as the glittering waves,
bursting on a moonlit beach
beyond the foot of our beds.

Yes, I’m sure I have read poetry before this, and even written it, but after a time spent reading the poetry of Never Night, and I’m not sure if that was a morning or a week or half my lifetime, or read in a dream half-waking, I somehow think I have never quite read poetry, not like this, so simple and complex and true, so tiny and so big, and I want to go out into the street, or topple off my particular cliff, and stop the first person walking by to press this slender, pretty book into their hands. Or yours. Read this. This, see, is poetry.

~Zinta Aistars for The Smoking Poet, Spring 2010 Issue

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