The Monsignor’s Agents by Bill Lockwood

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


The Monsignor’s Agents by Bill Lockwood

In the warm months of July and August I go off my diet of literary fiction and academic nonfiction and escape into my favorite pastime: summer reading. From May through September, one can see summer books in artful window displays in Main Street bookstores, on lawn chairs and colorful beach towels often flipped over with their pages fanning in a downward direction. Some can be spied poking out of a tote bag on a bus or train with just a hint of their titles showing. Some have their pages dogeared purposely to hold the reader’s place while their owner takes a reading break to splash in the pool, the ocean or other inland waters.

Novels filled with adventure, thrills, romance, mystery or history, which is a particular favorite of mine. Historical fiction hooked me into reading at a young age and today I am still drawn to this genre about people and places from eras gone by, some from the distant past to others at an even closer time that I can recall with a certain nostalgia because I was there somewhere. Somehow. Of course, not in the novel but existing in the real world as a younger version of myself, living and working and finding adventure on a much smaller scale.

I recently had the pleasure to read Bill Lockwood’s latest historical novel, The Monsignor’s Agents (The Wild Rose Press, 2020). Lockwood’s novel is filled with all those elements that I love: adventure, intrigue, danger, romance, and that recent historical context that made me think about where I was and what I was doing when Lockwood’s characters went about their bookish business of capturing my attention and literally traveling with me as I, myself, went about my summer business from place to place hoping for fifteen minutes here or there of stolen reading time so that I could catch up with my new summer friends. I spent a wonderful two weeks with Lockwood’s characters. Full disclosure: this is not my first Lockwood novel. Nevertheless, I was very pleased to see all his hallmarks in his latest work.

The setting of The Monsignor’s Agents takes place in two locations: Rome and on the island of Malta, located off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, in 1983, which I thought very interesting. The 1980s were more than crazy hair and clothes and the birth of MTV. They were a very political time in the world and in the Catholic Church as well. In the novel, Lockwood puts a spotlight on the Vatican and Pope John Paul II with speculation of a possible third assassination attempt brewing, and he does this beautifully using television news as a delivery vehicle, showing and not simply telling the reader. Lockwood does this right out of the gate in the first line:

Alison flipped on the TV while she waited for her morning coffee to brew. “May 1, 1983,” the announcer gave the date in Italian at the start of the local newscast for Rome.

Indeed, Lockwood clearly and succinctly orients the reader to the big picture while introducing his main character, Alison, a 27-year-old army intelligence officer stationed in Rome. The reader soon learns Alison’s role. Great writing here and throughout. Lockwood’s story is full of details and character movement.

He also adds a History and Author’s Notes in the beginning pages of his novel that supply some details and explanations of the numerous historical references peppered throughout the story that once more grounds the reader, gives authority to his characters, and also provides context to the exotic locations where the story takes place.

In this regard, authority is further heightened because the setting details are equally important to the plot. In the third chapter, Lockwood blends Alison with the setting in a historically evocative manner:

She had dressed European as cover, to blend in. The light summer dress she wore had, like the little island, a mix of European and Mediterranean cultures. The dress was thin to make her feel cool in the African heat and European in style to show she hadn’t worn a bra. Neither had she worn any jewelry except for a simple watch on her wrist. The guidebook had said that in the eighteenth century young girls in Maltese society were given simple coral necklaces believed to ward off evil. She was trusting in her training and experience to take care of that.

Alison’s character is reminiscent of a time when women were just beginning to break the gender barrier, particularly in the armed forces. Alison refers several times to the famed World War I spy, Mata Hari, who was a double agent spying on the French and Germans and ultimately died violently by a firing squad. Hari used her sexuality to get the job done and while that may have been true to history and the time, it made me pause. In a time of the women’s movement, Me Too, a heightened political climate and social awareness, to read about Alison using her sexuality in a flippant, provocative manner stopped me. It was unexpected and I had a moment of dislike for Lockwood’s character.

However, I recalled that 1980s pop culture was indeed graphic in terms of violence and sex, and women were commonly objectified by men as well as by themselves and had been for centuries. This is why historical female spies like Hari were able to stay under the radar of suspicion. I got that. This notion gave way to another thought. Perhaps Lockwood was showing the gender disparity of then and now in a micro-social commentary through his characters. How different they are to their modern contemporaries. Less serious, for sure. Playful. These qualities attracted me to them in the first place. My new summer besties. People whom I would invite to my house for a barbecue and cocktails had they been flesh and bone.

Returning to the other characters, overall they were very round and robust, charming, funny, and surprising, too. I liked them all, particularly Max, who I suspect may be a favorite of Bill’s. Max is a character I had met in a previous Lockwood novel and was delighted to be reacquainted with. Max and Alison’s points of view are the main plot vehicle as Lockwood switches between them in his linear narrative.

The novel builds to an exciting moment where the reader may guess what is about to happen but doesn’t know for sure, mirroring the character’s exact same sentiment. It’s a true page-turner followed by a traditional and quick falling action and character wrap up.

*

Bill Lockwood is a retired social services worker for Maryland and Vermont. Currently he writes articles on the arts and interesting people for the weekly Shopper/Vermont Journal and the daily Eagle Times. He was awarded the Greater Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce Person of the Year in recognition of his work as Chairman of the Bellow Falls Opera House Restoration Committee. Lockwood published his second novel, Megan of the Mists, in 2017, and third, Ms. Anna, in 2018. He has five published short stories. His short story “The Kids Won’t Leave” is scheduled to appear in the Fall 2020 issue of Two Hawks Quarterly, the literary journal of Antioch University, Los Angeles. Bill lives in Vermont.

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

Rainforest In Russet by Cynthia Sharp

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Rainforest in Russet by Cynthia Sharp

“Elegant, evocative, nostalgic” are three words that come to mind after reading Cynthia Sharp’s dazzling poems from Rainforest in Russet (Silver Bow Publishing, 2018), a collection that drew me in from the first lovely lines of the title poem, “Rainforest in Russet.”

In the silence

between
breaths,

my truth rises.

I fall into the space
Where the forest

captures
light.

The poems in Sharp’s collection pay tribute to earthly delights. They are evocative vignettes of emotion, steeped in longing, a nostalgia or a gratefulness for something or someone. Gratitude is a word I have heard a lot of lately. I have thought a lot about its meaning and for me, how evoking its presence brings comfort in uncertain times.

Gratitude

The shades of orange
in the petals of a daisy,
the scent of sea in summer,
the beach on a Tuesday evening,
sunlight and slower days,
the way it’s possible
to love again,
a groundedness in home,
like the stars there every night,
waiting on the moon.

Nostalgia is another theme that shimmers below the surface. I caught a glimpse of it in an autobiographical poem called “A Tribute to Orange” where Sharp uses tints and shades of color to paint a picture of her past.

the glow of the neighbor’s porch light
Through rain
Amber warmth reflected in puddles
Like Paris café candles in the night.

The first colour I see
Mixed with violet
When I close my eyes.

I loved the way she ended this poem and yes, I closed my eyes.

Many of the poems have this dream-like quality that create a sense of finding joy, peace in the moment such as in the poem, “The Sojourner’s Way,” which reminds me of my late afternoon wooded walks with my dog, Skye, where my problems start to shrink with each joyful step and I return to myself.

In the haven of silence
I no longer carry
everyone’s blind spots
put some of it down
let nirvana return.

My fallen tree uprooted no more
thunder, rain, time
cherry petals in a sea of blue
the swoosh of a sand stream
emptied of unwanted current
gentle mist beyond

slow journeys
the softness of wind in birch leaves
heart of green   earth   breathing
these afternoons before I go to the forest

only a tiny fraction makes it to the light
but that fraction embodies all.

Indeed, Sharp’s poems also capture the idea of the connection of the human spirit to nature. A communion. Nature abounds in all the poems, particularly in the changing of seasons.

This collection seeped into my soul. My typical routine when reading a collection is to go slowly, reading each poem with careful thought with my morning coffee, and then think about them through the course of my day, pondering meaning and finding truth. Living in a pandemic changed my world in unexpected ways; I found solace in Sharp’s collection. My daily walks tripled, and I began taking a closer look at the beauty in my backyard forest. I watch the trees, looking for signs of renewal—of Spring as l wish for summer winds to blow away the pandemic and its accompanying chilly spring. I daydream of June.

amid quiet full trees

waking up in June with sunlight and time
the invisible rise up
the way the tips of the dogwood touch clouds
and luminosity returns
waiting on the birth

Halfway through Rainforest in Russet, I noted a shift in Sharp’s poems. A new landscape and subject. The words were still evocative and natural but there was something else more personal. Poignant.

The Summer We Never Had” and this excerpt from “the Bohemian” speak of time and a place and lost love.

along the way,
as I lost myself
into late autumn evenings,
a lonely barge along the night river,
still seeking you
as red leaves fell softly
into dark water.

My heart pinched when I read this part of “Somnambulant Web” in its very visual graphic layout on the page.

I hold on
Because deep down,
I know,
There was only you.

This next poem was my favorite and even though I’ve never heard of its title, I understood…

Selenophilia

Reflecting back
to long lost loves and youth,
days of working in restaurants
in fast-paced east coast cities
and falling in love
under stars and fireflies at night,
I surrender my sorrow
to the cherry petals,
fluttering on the wind
like a thousand tiny butterflies
lingering in the light.

Rainforest in Russet is a gorgeous collection that is a perfect read for today’s new world. Its evocative scenery takes the reader on a wooded walk within its pages and is a nostalgic time-travel to a different earth. It belongs on every teacher’s shelf. Cynthia Sharp’s collection casts a dreamy, dazzling light that beguiles the senses and the spirit.

*

Cynthia Sharp was the city of Richmond’s 2019 Writer in Residence, where she taught poetry, flash fiction, and screenwriting. She is a full member of The League of Canadian Poets, The Writers Union of Canada. Sharp served two years as a regional director for The Federation of British Columbia Writers and a 2020 judge for the Pandora’s Collective International Poetry Contest. She is the founder and main instructor for The Zen of Poetry, a Zen workshop writing series for individuals and groups. Cynthia is featured at numerous literary events throughout North America. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Toasted Cheese, Nature Poems, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, My Word Wizard, and Piker Press. She has been recognized globally, nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology. Email: inthelightwt[at]gmail.com

The Zen of PoetryCynthia Sharp Poet’s Corner
Cynthia’s Goodreads Author Page | Cynthia’s Amazon Author Page

Readings from Rainforest In Russet

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

Neighbours & Tourists by Ewa Mazierska

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Neighbours & Tourists by Ewa Mazierska

Ewa Mazierska’s collection of short stories, Neighbours & Tourists (Adelaide Books, 2019) is an intriguing and soulful assortment of travel stories set across Europe and India, as well as a deep dive into the human condition. They vary from village stories told by a returning narrator to well-seasoned travelers who manage more than a glance at the secret world of the local populations they visit. The collection has a duality about it. It is also about home—of coming home. What it feels like to return after many years to discover the changes and sameness in childhood spaces. The beauty and disappointment of it all. Or the idea of creating home in transient spaces which is more than unpacking a suitcase and tucking it under a hotel bed. To create a home, one must venture out into society and bring it back piece by piece, brick by brick, building home in local experience and exposure to the people and customs of the new place until the new place begins to feel familiar. Mazierska defines this idea in the details of her stories.

The stories are arranged in two parts: Neighbours and Tourists. The beginning ones (Neighbours) read like a social commentary revealing much of the hierarchy of friendships and strangers in the narrator’s childhood village. The first story, “The Death of a Neighbor,” sets this idea into motion:

The deaths of the neighbours inevitably affected the hierarchy of those who remained; the further ones by virtue of being still around moved to the position of the close ones.

Indeed, Mazierska’s first story told by a female narrator relates the intimate details of a nearly 1980s Polish village under martial law that only someone from that village could reveal and Mazierska does this in an interesting way. The story reads like gossip. Lots of telling. I could almost see the narrator sitting across the table from me, a cup of coffee and a cigarette smoldering as she revealed the “backwardness” of her village whispering the word “cancer” as the village villain as she goes on to describe local population and their death culture.

[D]ead people only live as long as they live in other people’s memory.

This first story really is the jumping-off point. Once immersed, it was difficult to stop reading as the stories are loosely linked like little houses on a lighted string. The reader travels house to house, following the first narrator as she pedals the reader on a private tour of her childhood village. The backdrop of the stories hints of the decrepitness and economic collateral damage from World War II, the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall. One story, “Too Smart,” was a tragedy about the downfall of a Polish family by a gangster marriage. Other stories related even more tragedies about more rural families, some from their own doings, which according to the narrator’s mother from the story “Disinheritance” was “worse than the Holocaust.”

After this story, I started to wonder if it was time to put the book down.These characters seemed real to me and their misfortunes depressing and painfully poignant. They reminded me of Anton Chekov’s stories. Mazierska created them so vividly that I did wonder where the intersection of fiction and truth met. Her writing was spot on and elegant. Then something happened. I turned the page. I read a few more lines and she had me. The next little house on Mazierska’s strand was “The Widow and Her Daughter.” It was pretty terrific. I am partial to women’s stories and this one in particular was surprising and striking. Mazierska set it up beautifully:  teacher who grew beautiful flowers and traveled beyond the village borders of her stereotype.

…the daughter was in her forties and she was still unmarried and lived with her mother. This was an uncommon position for women in our village, except that it befell female teachers more often than members of any other occupational groups, simply because teachers in Poland are mostly women, so they have few opportunities for office romance and live under pressure to behave modestly.

And she was anything but modest.

The second part of the collection shifts to the early 2000s and often to third person, beginning with the lopsided love story of Sarah and Thomas (“Homo Sacer and Her Lover”) who meet on several business trips in Budapest. One of them is a true romantic and the other a “‘homo sacer’: somebody who has only his physical life, zoe, rather than bio, which was a higher form of existence.”

Another story I liked very much was “Heaven for Prostitutes.” The narrator stops for directions and meets a cohort of colorful characters in a chance encounter. Here, Mazierska humanizes these characters, giving them dignity and a certain grace despite their professions.

‘Maybe childbirth is more painful than walking the night in
uncomfortable shoes, but at least no woman gives birth every night for 35 years[.]’

Other stories relate the prejudice often directed at the local populations by travelers, not contrived but still apparent. In “Carlos and Us,” another chance encounter opens a new world for a family who befriend a local man. The travelers romanticize him and come to realize that their new friend has a distaste for foreigners.

[W]e remain tourist attractions for each other: fake or at least decontextualised.

This theme appears again in other stories as the characters immerse themselves in the local cultures sometimes superficially, other times losing themselves completely in it. Mazierska’s writing is personal and profound, tracing and trespassing boundaries of time, space, and the human heart. She draws you in and keeps you to the end.

*

Ewa Mazierska is a historian of film and popular music who writes short stories in her spare time. Her work has been published in The Longshot Island, The Fiction Pool, Literally Stories, Away, The Bangalore Review, Shark Reef, Toasted Cheese, Opiate, Red Fez, Thimble, and Mystery Tribune among others.  She is also a Pushcart nominee and her work was shortlisted in several competitions including most recently the 2019 Eyelands Book Awards. Born in Poland, Mazierska currently resides in Lancashire, UK. Neighbours and Tourists is her first collection of short stories. Twitter: @EwaMazierska
pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

Accelerant by Bill Yarrow

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Accelerant by Bill Yarrow

World-building. That is what came to this reader’s mind when I finished the last poem in Bill Yarrow’s collection, Accelerant. Each poem brings the reader to a betwixt place, real or imagined. A split-second moment communicating a universe of thought. Feelings. Ideas connected with Yarrow’s well-chosen vocabulary and punctuation, steeped in the abstract as well as nostalgia. For me, it was like each poem opened a door to an unseen space. I call it a twilight space. Unique and sometimes unsettling, perhaps because it is partially recognizable. Yarrow evokes an idea and then he populates it with intriguing elements, elegant and gritty. Familiar and yet perplexing. I pondered on some of the poems in this collection for days, like this one whose title suggests but offers no explanation:

Machete

aspirin and Band-Aids in baggies
astronauts with flags on their swimsuits
addicts with raging colitis
none of the above

blandishment heaped upon Girl Scouts
board games invented by florists
beachcombers drunk at the drive-in
none of the above

magnets left in a chapel
manatees shunted in tunnels
mystics sedated with sulfur
none of the above

wellness empowered by ampoules
weather defended by dancers
whimsy unharnessed to outlook
none of the above

Despite my curiosity, I marveled at the alliteration, the absence of punctuation, and repetition of the last line in each stanza.The poem is a list of people, objects, and ideas paired in a nonsensical partnerships that have purpose and yet no explanation. I enjoyed every word.

Repetition, alliteration, and interesting structure, indeed, are a few of the hallmarks in Yarrow’s collection of forty poems. I loved the first sentence in “Sin Embargo”: I like badness.

Yarrow makes a list on this subject that sounds terribly terrific especially when read aloud as all poems should be read.

I like badness. Don’t all the really good
Films have the word “bad” in their titles?
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Bad
Day at Black Rock. Bad Lieutenant.
Baadasssss! The Bad and the
Beautiful. The Bad Seed.

Evil’s another story, a story
whose orphan narrator is misery,
married to pain, son of suffering,
sibling of spleen. I have seen evil.
If you have too, you know there’s
But one bad way to get rid of evil.

Retrieve the ragged dagger. The night
Is just weak enough for insurrection.

Other poems have a reverse mirror-like structure that seem to end as they begin as in the case of “Not a Villanelle.” While other poems reveal their structure in their conclusion like “Poet between Oxnard and Van Nuys” which is a combination of description and lists, and lists loving details of a spectacular summer evidenced in the musings of poet gazing out a passenger train window at the landscape outside and the internal one happening as well, in tandem:

The butter of summer was melting onto
the toast of the town, a town which I had
visited only in dreams

Another poem I liked describes a western U.S. landscape. I think. A landscape the poet knows well and as a reader I recognize, too. The poem is “Less Scenery” and the words are set in an interesting array of line indents and white space on the page that continues in a trajectory that may relate to the title and perhaps a guided message within its context through the use of very American establishments such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and other generic structures that seem to creep up on the western landscape of “arroyos” and “mesas” and “avocado trees.” Perhaps it is the window view from another ride through the American landscape. The landscape of American dream? Or perhaps it is a sociopolitical commentary on America today. Maybe both.

Yarrow’s poems also have a nostalgic quality to them. “Pinochle in My Snout” is a snapshot in time of a family party absent of cell phones and social media. A bygone era in popular culture. Familiar and a tad bittersweet.

The paneled linoleum basement rec room
with tables set up for pinochle, salami, and
schnapps. My uncles, grandfather and father
at one table; my aunts and mother at the other.
The blurry TV on. The bookcases with glass
fronts and carved locked doors holding auction
volumes and foreign coins. My three sisters
in ballerina tutus running up and down stairs.
My unemployed younger cousins on the back lawn
smoking Luckies. My coiffed older cousins discussing
the subdivisions of the Republican future. Albums
of peeling Polaroids, dirty doilies, fuzzy rugs.
The fetching wreckage of an arsoned heart. “Does
anyone want anything else to eat? Anyone? Anyone?”

Accelerant is an intrepid collection of gutsy poems. A pager turner in that each poem is unique in its structure, voice, and message. For forty days I read one of Yarrow’s poems with my morning coffee and knew with each visitation, I would be taken to a new place, down an interesting path, or a look back to a familiar space seen through Bill Yarrow’s very cool and penetrating perspective.

*

Bill Yarrow, Professor of English at Joliet Junior College, is the author of five full-length books of poetry and five poetry chapbooks. His poems have been published in PANK, Contrary, Diagram, Thrush, Chiron Review, RHINO and many other journals such as The Decadent Review, Isacoustic*, Toasted Cheese, and Port Yonder Press. Yarrow’s latest collection is Accelerant (Nixes Mate Books, 2019). Facebook: bill.yarrow.1 | Twitter: billyarrow | Poets & Writers: bill_yarrow

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

Emily as Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire
by Darren C. Demaree

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Emily as Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire by Darren C. Demaree

I spent the summer months reading Darren Demaree’s recent collection of poems, Emily as Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire (Harpoon Books, 2019). One or two poems a day with my morning coffee in the quiet space of my kitchen. Abstract, evocative, organic and ethereal, Demaree’s poetry is primed with familiar images of family and home from the bathtub to the backyard, in a range of the spoken and unspoken words between husband and wife. The collection echoes an existentialism, a sobriety, and a quiet, soulful longing that moved me.

Emily as The First Question
Is a Blood Question

Gathered to the rivering, I asked Emily
to sit in the summer dark, alone with me,
the parts of me that were her enemy.

& in a field that held no crop, no rising
roots, she sat silently, listening to the water
flow away from us, the gravity of the land.

like the future escaping & like there is no cliff,
only the waving arms that have left.
I had three words, a question I thought

could save us from joining the escaping
light, joining the puff of dust that rises
with the hard landing, I should have asked

her to quit drinking with me, so I could stand
to kiss her without hating her a little bit
each time she came home buzzed. Already

aware that only the water can carry you to
the bottom of the framing I asked Emily,
whispered towards the land, are you scared?

The poems are a hodgepodge of this one idea. This one subject. This Emily personified. Emily who flows through the poet’s world like a force from nature lifting the poet up, up, and up, but also binding him to the earth evocatively in secular and divine comparisons to nature and the inner workings of the human heart.

Emily as Thousands of
Colliding Butterflies

Not a bee, so close
to the ground, so nested

in the one, colored hive,

my love is a lunatic

with wings, a dynamo
in reds, in oranges,

no yellow.
From a blue
sky filled
with nothing

my love has taken
to darkening the sun

with the purest collision

of thundering color

& on impact,
the falling
of some wing.

Follow the grasses,
You will step on the parts

of her she had no need of.

Several poems remind me a little of the Romantic sonnets. This one seemed to begin before the first line. Well-turned words that Demaree uses to hint of something more. Perhaps something only Emily knows. I love that.

Emily as A Pin of Light

Yet women
are the moon,
elbowed.

cast in dark
as the context
for our light?

No. It is dark
all of the time.

Emily has spiked

the world
for me.

The fruit
of such air

breeds stars.

Another motif I’ve talked about before when reviewing Demaree’s collections is the visual aspect. Demaree uses white space expertly creating vertical and horizontal forms as he pairs words and phrases or stands them alone on the page sometimes in repetition in an elegant and very visual feast of letters, words, and punctuation. A few of the poems are also curiously populated with people’s names. Real people, not imagined:

Emily as Written by
William Elliot Whitmore.

Emily as I explained to Her Who the
Photographer Kevin Carter Was.

Emily as A One-Act Play
Written by Ted Brengle.

—Yes. I googled all of them. Then I wondered…

Having read several of Demaree’s collections, I’ve become familiar with his style and subject genres. He often writes about Ohio and quite often his poems seem almost duplicitous as they are layered line by line in inferential meaning. I placed a star in the margins and puzzled over this next one.

Emily as A Leveling of Ground

Across the snow,
the sea change of Ohio,
the axe splits wood

as an empty threat
to the whole world,
but then again, hands

can motion the life
right out of this thing.
Personally involved

in the end of the world,
what the living do;
is command the rags

& muscles to be easy
with pleasure,
to take the blanket

& pull it over all heads,
to kick legs
like a ornery child,

a knowing child
with a flat surface
to give in to an eyelid

I found Emily
that means I am ready
for the rest of you

to close your eyes as well.

This one stood out. The imagery is gorgeous and filled with lovely symmetry. I wrote one word in the margins: WOW!

Emily as A Book of Endings

For Leslie Harrison

I chose Emily, because I knew
that if she chose me
I could prepare for death

In a way made my desperation
to keep living something tangible.
Now, with each child we have

I am cemented in the panic
of living. Now, since she
keeps choosing me

every morning, I am able
to taunt mortality in a way
that will leave claw marks

in the fields of Ohio.
How glorious it will be
to be dragged from the living

& scream one name, to spit
one name at my weakening
grip, to expect the strength

to return to me just like
the thousands of other times
I’ve used her name to live longer.

Again, and again, I looked for hidden meaning and mindset in Darren Demaree’s poems, but often come out on the other side of that perspective thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking quite so hard. A familiar reminder to myself. The poems are like the bubbling brook that appears mysteriously each spring and early fall in my backyard, flowing around the bordering pines and birch trees on its way to the river a short distance through woods. Should I be poking around the forest to find the source? Or rather should I just enjoy the sound of the running water from my kitchen window knowing that it will most likely be gone the next time I look? I think the latter. Poems are meant to be spoken. Poems are magical in that organic sense. And I learn something new about poetry and about myself when I read Demaree’s poems. I like that. Always have. So, somewhere midway through the collection, I stopped mining the words to find out who or what is Emily. It seems Emily is everything and everywhere. An omnipresence in the poet’s world. Emily as Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire is a tribute to this human idea of a divinity, a quiet grace that exists in all of us taking form in a person, in nature, or in the abstract. Pointing true north. A joy for the poet to tribute. A joy for the reader to behold, as well.

*

Darren C. Demaree is the author of eleven collections of poetry, most recently Emily as Sometimes the Forest Wants Fire (June 2019, Harpoon Books). He is recipient of a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal. He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children. Twitter: @d_c_demaree

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com

My Husband’s Lies by Caroline England

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


My Husband’s Lies by Caroline England

Reviewing books for Toasted Cheese is one of my greatest pleasures. It gives me the opportunity to read a range of literature—poetry, short stories, memoirs, and novels. I like to read. It goes with being an editor. My day typically begins early with a few chapters and a cup of coffee and the moon keeping me company, and often ends the same way except without the cup of coffee. Another pleasure I have is to write a second review for a TC author. I’ve written a handful of second and even third reviews thus far for a select group of authors who have stuck it out, persevered in their craft, hammering away despite the daily drone of life that most often takes precedence and yet have somehow managed to pick up a pen or tap on their laptop keys to produce something meaningful. And what’s more, rose again to the challenge of finding an agent or an editor who was willing to read it. I recently received a query from one such author: Carolyn England, whose short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses, I reviewed for Toasted Cheese in 2013. Since then, England has written two novels with a third soon to be published. I was delighted to have a second opportunity to read her work and see how it has evolved.

Carolyn England’s second novel, My Husband’s Lies (Avon, 2018), is about friendship. Adult friendship. Although the book jacket hints of more: Everyone has a secret… and Do you really know your friends? England masterfully narrates her story in a third-person point of view that shifts between several characters often revisiting important scenes to show the reader a detail up close or an idea seen with more clarity through another set of eyes. The characters are interesting, robust, and believable in their complexities and imperfections. Nicknamed “The A-Team,” they share a common bond: a friendship that began in their teenage school years at St. Mark’s.

They are:

Handsome Dan Maloney, a Realtor married to Geri and expecting their first child; wealthy Nick Quinn, newly married to Lisa; golden boy Will Taylor; and intuitive Jen, a married mother of two and the only girl member of the A-Team. These characters and their significant others are reunited at a wedding in the novel’s exposition and each holds a secret that is hidden from the other characters. Chapter by chapter, England reveals the characters’ flaws, problems, and secrets through close narration, building tension and suspense.

These characters are real and very likeable despite their troubles. Here’s an elegant character sketch from Nick about his much older and beloved brother, Patrick, who just happens to be a favorite of mine.

The low sound of the car’s horn brings him back to the road and a stubborn stray sheep. He turns to Patrick, suddenly remembering how comforting it was to see his fair hair in the darkness when he was small and had a nightmare. Immediately there by his side, it was as though Patrick knew. Today his greying hair is hidden behind a suede hat with flaps. Give him a moustache and he’d look like a dashing World War II pilot rather than a sad fifty-year-old keeping his ears warm on a cold March morning. (p. 178)

The hallmarks of England’s writing are still there. Her storytelling is expressed keenly through dialogue sometimes with a slight change of tone or in the smallest movement. I could see these people and their stories play out like a film in my mind in a sublime economy of words that doesn’t give anything away.

The story begins in medias res, in an atmospheric and exciting prologue—a big kick start that introduces one of the characters in serious peril. This character is the linchpin in the story, set up with purpose for the reader to follow, like Alice’s little white friend flying down, down the rabbit hole. What is further interesting is that the character isn’t named. I loved that. I pondered whether or not this mysterious character was a reliable narrator. Great characterization.

After this initial scene, England uses flashback to explain the perilous event and then structures the remainder of the story in a linear timeline of events peppered with smaller flashbacks. England drops hints and clues, letting the secrets out piece by piece, like a giant jigsaw puzzle until the whole puzzle is laid out and then the fun begins: What will happen next? England shows all and tells nothing. Her prose is spot on and evocative, vividly told, page by page, chapter after chapter, layer on layer as she builds the characters’ stories with suspense from the get go and with it a mystery that leads, takes root, and grows into an exciting Hitchcock-style conclusion. Masterful storytelling.

*

Born a Yorkshire lass, Caroline England studied Law at the University of Manchester and stayed over the border. England was a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer and instigated her jottings when she deserted the law to bring upher three lovely daughters. In addition to the publication of her short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses, England has had short stories and poems published in a variety of literary publications and anthologies. Her debut novel, Beneath the Skin (Avon Harper Collins), also known as The Wife’s Secret, was published in 2017. Carolyn England’s second novel, My Husband’s Lies, followed in 2018. Her next novel, Betray Her (Little, Brown) is soon to be published in 2019. Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

pencilShelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com

Two Towns Over by Darren C. Demaree

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Two Towns Over by Darren C. Demaree

I’ve had the true pleasure to review Darren Demaree’s poetry over the years and his impressive collection Two Towns Over (Trio House Press, 2017) is one of his very best.

I especially enjoy reading his poems because they make me think. I always feel a little smarter after I swallow a poem with my morning coffee. I am no writer of poetry, but a humble reader. I’ve discovered in my time that the reader doesn’t have to be a poet to enjoy the form. That a poem isn’t about me, but in reality, it’s all about me, the reader. A poem is a personal. A poem is also a puzzle. And I so love holding on to the poet’s words for a little while, to look for and find meaning within its form, to gently poke at its construct, and sometimes make a personal connection.

Demaree’s prose speaks to this idea. His writing is thoughtful and elegant in its vernacular and unique style that I’ve come to recognize and expect. The subjects often transcend the poet’s world and speak to a wide audience, which is another hallmark of Demaree’s writing. The collection spoke to me quite strongly, and I think it will speak to many others. It is brave, political, and disturbing—no surprise. Two Towns Over takes the reader down deep into one of America’s darkest places, the living nightmare of the opiate epidemic, a real-life monster that Demaree names and calls out, pointing a finger with his prose at the ignorance and the static that fuel it.

These are some of my favorites:

Unless It’s My Own

I have seen
Mount Vernon
poorly spent

& I have heard
no talk about
Mount Vernon

& I am told
about Fredericktown
& Danville

all of the time.
The whole county
is on fire

& we’re arguing
about which
town uses

the least gasoline?
These drugs
are cheap

& they are magic
& it’s all happening
somewhere else?

No. That heat
doesn’t respond
to piss

& it’s already caught
the bottom
of your pant leg.

The poems are uniquely centered in the author’s home state of Ohio, a familiar subject in Demaree’s writing, but honestly, they could be about anywhere in the United States. Heroin has invaded every corner in every city, town, suburb in the United States as it is bought and sold in plain sight in and around Main Street, in a transforming trajectory that often leads home. Home is where the heart is and Demaree’s prose takes us there. Vividly. The poems are about the author’s world—the seen and the unseen—but they are also about our world, too.

Quick Root

Some plunges are wings
melting into the good black dirt
& feeding that dirt

With the un-writing
of a person’s book. Tongues
working past the failing bloom,

the drugs can subtract
you forever. They are taking
all of Ohio. It’s a burial

of the living. It’s the best
of us leeched to be lost
in the slight pull of gravity

& the claim each ounce
of each drug is making
on our once reminiscent flight.

If my math is correct, the collection contains 57 poems. The poems are organized in four groupings beginning with the Sweet Wolf poems that are fixed mainly in the addict’s world. The town poems, whose titles are actual townships in Ohio, are interestingly interspersed with more personal poems from the author’s and addict’s points of view. And lastly are the odes to specific drug houses, which are also named places. These titles alone are thought-provoking in their context and in their number.

This poem spoke to me. It is familiar. It could be my town that Demaree writes about. Really anyone’s town. Small town America, but a twisted America reminiscent of the setting of a Stephen King horror story where something sinister has moved into the neighborhood and is feeding off the local population. People start dying and disappearing, especially the young, and there is nothing to do but carry on. The static is deafening even under the bright Friday night football lights.

Danville, Ohio

Some nothings
Are everything
& those moving

& robed communities
Stay waist-deep
In the generations

& when one, two,
three, four, five
children die

like characters
in a newspaper story,
the crosswinds

give up completely.
The brownies cool
all on their own.

The football games
get louder
because they must.

In the poem, “Sweet Wolf #4,” Demaree writes “the real power / is undressed / inside of us, / because that’s / how actual / monsters operate.” The Sweet Wolf poems capture this truth quite viscerally. The invisible enemy within. And the wolf is so sickly sweet. How else could it attract so many? Nobody dreams of growing up to be poor, homeless, a criminal, a drug addict. Demaree’s point of view often shifts as he continues to show the subject’s vantage point in dazzling psychedelic imagery, sometimes from the ground up.

This poem made me wonder about how many people made it home and were saved and how many more were so close to hope.

Sweet Wolf #25

The home
& the temple
are quite modest.

if you’re passed
out on the steps
that reach them.

Besides the bitter poignancy, some of the Sweet Wolf poems also gave me the chills. Especially this one that flashes the monster’s face and with it the overwhelming gravity of it all.

Sweet Wolf #12

Gestures to a mask,
did you know that if you
connect the location

of every drug-house
in the Knox County area
you will see my face?

The poem, “Jefferson Township, Ohio” explores the arc of the internal invasion and its devastation to communities in a simple, yet elegant elegy composed of pure metaphor.

The bees are here.
They’re in our veins.
We are the hive,

because we have
mislabeled the honey.
We’ve tasted too little

& we’ve tasted too much
& since we cannot
trust the beekeepers,

we have the whole
countryside to ruin
with our stingers.

Two Towns Over is an audacious and brave collection of poems filled with powerful, yet beautiful, poignancy and angst about the new American condition—communities such as those in Ohio that are currently being decimated by an insidious cycle of drugs that is gaining momentum coast to coast—and its devastating collateral damage to America’s heart and soul. Darren Demaree’s words fly high like a siren screaming to the mainstream static that this assault on what we hold dearest is not coming soon to cities and towns across America. It’s already here.

*

Darren C. Demaree is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Bombing the Thinker, which was published by Backlash Press. He is recipient of a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal. He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com

Ms. Anna by Bill Lockwood

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Ms. Anna by Bill Lockwood

Bill Lockwood has done it again. In his third novel, Ms. Anna (Wild Rose Press, 2018), Lockwood puts together a curious and salty mix of romance, danger and adventure on the high seas. Set in 1990s Mayaguez, Puerto Rico—the tuna canning capital of the world—Mayaguez is “a working port city… on the opposite end from the upscale shops and restaurants of old San Juan and very different from the Jimmy Buffet world that tourists might imagine.” Lockwood’s historical notes in the first pages provide a detailed history of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Key West that ground the reader in local history and lore before diving into the story’s exposition. A notable hallmark of Lockwood’s writing.

The story begins in action. Protagonist Anna pilots her father’s fishing boat and her namesake, the Senorita Anna, into the dark port of Mayaguez at the end of a secret cruise. Told in third-person omniscient narration, Anna’s backstory is revealed early on: “She and her father were ex-patriots from the mainland who had come to the island about five years ago…” Lockwood adeptly uses the exposition not only to chronicle the characters’ backstories, but also to foreshadow the major conflict. Pay attention, readers. Lockwood likes to drop subtle hints and red herrings.

Then along comes Max, the second protagonist, in Chapter Two. Max is an academic from a wealthy New England family sent to the Caribbean to investigate fraud in his family’s tuna canning business. Max’s character is immediately appealing because he is humble, friendly, and courteous—a very likeable underdog. Max talks to everybody he meets. He tells a cab driver about his stuffy family and another funny story about why they invited him to Thanksgiving Dinner:

I’m the black sheep… They only get in touch with me when they need something… They think I once worked for the CIA, and my skills at checking things out are useful to them… Of course I can’t tell you, or them, for that matter if I ever really worked for the CIA. The mystery of it all works fine for me…

Max is a very round character, much more rounded than the other characters, even Anna. He has another interesting exchange with a stranger on the plane to Mayaguez, a stranger that seems very like one of the other main characters the reader meets later in the novel. This stopped me as I wondered about the purpose of this early moment. Was it to foreshadow Max’s future? Or perhaps to show that Max isn’t as smart as he thinks and may have been played from the get-go? Both? Neither? It is no surprise that Max clashes with another important character, Senor Confresi, whom he is investigating and who may or may not be the villain in the story. This intriguing character is written well because even if he is a villain, Confresi has some truly likeable qualities much like Max: good manners, a pleasant appearance, charm, and genuineness in his interactions. Senor Confresi doesn’t lie, yet the reader knows he isn’t telling the truth either. This is good character writing.

Returning to the women characters. There is much more to be said. They are sexy, smart characters and familiar in their objectivity. Anna and Miss Parker are both noted for their appearance first and then their intelligence later, a sexist stereotype that continued well through the nineties and whose treatment is heightened by the hot, tropical setting.

Lockwood describes Anna:

At age twenty-two, Anna was a recent graduate in the class of 1991… She had on the school’s maroon T-shirt with the bold gold letters “RUM” across the front. That shirt, or others similar, and a bikini bathing suit bottom was all she usually wore for either of her two part-time jobs.

The variety of Anna’s bikini bottoms are also noted once or twice more which seems more of a distracting sidenote than an important detail.

Also noteworthy is that Miss Parker is compared to Anna from Max’s point of view.

A mainlander, about Anna’s age. She was dressed in a sleeveless flowered dress that had a very short skirt. Like Anna, she was barefoot and had a full tan as if she were frequently outside.

It makes sense that Max would compare them, yet he only speaks of appearances. And later, she is seen by a disapproving Anna “sunbathing on the bow of the ship without her top on.” Miss Parker stands out to say the least. She is cast as a sexy siren character. Although beautiful like Anna, Miss Parker is much more calculating and worth watching closely.

Lockwood’s characters are also reminiscent of noir: a stranger rides into town on a mission. The stranger is a detective-type, searching for something or someone and meets two female characters. One is innocent, a girl-next-door, and the other, a femme fatale—much like Lockwood’s Max, Anna, and Miss Parker, who reminds me of a leading female character from one of Ian Fleming’s novels. (I can’t recall which novel, but I do think she’d be an awesome Bond Girl.) Conversely, I do like how the two women play off each other with their similarities as seen through Max’s male gaze and how these women quietly control the plot. Both are important. And as stereotypical as these women characters might appear, Lockwood is true to the times in his treatment of their sexuality. He gets full points there.

Lockwood is also adept at building worlds in his evocative adventure story which is frequently peppered with Spanish language and local colloquialisms and customs. There is authority in the writing and a strong sense of place. When the characters are on the Ms. Anna, the reader can feel the sway of the ship and smell the salt. When Max is running for his life at the tuna factory, the reader can see Max trying to find his way out of the factory labyrinth.

Max describes La Salida, the bar where he first meets Anna:

The place would have been very dark except for the many slatted shutters that were open to let in any breeze that might pass through. Salsa music, similar to that in the cab, blared from speakers that seemed to be all around. Max noted that what little wall space was left was heavily paneled, with ropes, nets, lanterns, and other nautical ware hung everywhere. A group of obvious locals sat in groups or as couples at various tables scattered around. Max went up to a deserted part of the bar and climbed up on a stool.

Then along comes Anna and the story takes off. The reader is the cliché fly on the wall.

Ms. Anna wraps up nicely in the end. Lockwood takes his time as the story rounds the climax, allowing the reader to savor the falling action and see the effect that the resolution has on the characters.

*

Bill Lockwood is a retired social services worker for Maryland and Vermont. He was an avid community theater participant in the early 1990s where he wrote reviews and feature articles for the Baltimore Theater Newsletter and the Bellows Falls Town Crier of Vermont. He was awarded the Greater Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce Person of the Year in recognition of his work as Chairman of the Bellow Falls Opera House Restoration Committee. Lockwood has four published short stories and published his second novel, Megan of the Mists, in 2017. He lives in New Hampshire.

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com

Necessary Lies By Richard Edgar

Candle-ends
Shelley Carpenter


Necessary Lies by Richard Edgar

Necessary Lies (2018) by Richard Edgar is a timely LGBTQ novel that addresses the allusion in the title concerning a global lack of diversity and acceptance. The novel is told mostly in dialogue form with shifting first person characters in a constant and purposeful panoramic flashback structure. It also holds an interesting posse of quirky characters that Edgar calls “the misfits” who are high school outliers from back in the day that evolve collectively into the modern day protagonists in the story.

The premise of Necessary Lies is biological. It is a science fiction fantasy that dabbles with the ethics of genetic parenting. It leads the reader deeper down a muddy and somewhat murky rabbit hole to the 1990s and early 2000s popular culture known for its discrimination and uncivil behavior toward a specific group of people living nontraditional lives: the LGBTQ population (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning).

One of the main characters, Sarah, speaks to this when she says, “We are a family of secrets, we tell the truth except when we don’t.”

The story begins in 2014 and indeed reflects this idea. Edgar dangles a mystery at the beginning and cleverly uses a teenage character, Miranda, to share her gay parents’ stories as well as her own thoughts on the subject of being different. Miranda says, “Sure, we were the only gay people in the school, and that was so weird that nobody knew what to say to us, so pretty much nobody said anything.”

It was a time when there were few if any ungendered public bathrooms in the U.S. and people were just beginning to ask the question: What are your pronouns? And coming out wouldn’t get you killed although it might still get you beat up or fired. There are moments of dialogue that grapple with the inequity and cruelty of being an outlier and other moments when the prose is so clearly in the character’s head in a stream of consciousness style of writing of inner dialogue which is the main voice for several characters. Edgar hits it out of the park.

The character Sarah has another great quote that is repeated in the story several times: “Work hard, do your homework, cheat a little when you have to.” It is more than a cute tag line but a credo that these characters live by.

Other characters walk the gender line. Sarah’s wife, Lia, comments about a seven-year-old boy named Doug who has a playdate with their daughter, Susie:

I try to do what transpeople ask, I mean, some of my best friends… Aaaand that sounded horrible. I have to say I was devoutly hoping this was a phase Susie would grow out of for our convenience more than for anything in her own psyche. And for Doug, well boys who want to be girls get the snot beat out of them, more often than not. Which is sad, but if he’s really transgendered and knows it at age seven, it’s a hard life he has cut out for him. I hope his family is supportive.

Among the many misfit characters is Mo, a transgender person who I think is one of the best written characters in the novel. Mo talks about herself and her trans friend, Cris, in a funny and sad, down-to-earth way:

Cris and I are kind of like peas in a pod, except we’re complete opposites. When we were in high school, Cris was a girl and I was a boy. Then I was a man for a while. Now I’m a woman. Is Marine a gender? I was that for a while, too. Now, I’m a vet. Cris gave up on femininity, and I think that if men and women can’t understand each other, M2F and F2M transpeople have even less chance. But Cris is more F2X or something. Anything not female, he says. Not male either, she says.

The shifting points of view indeed give Necessary Lies a real panoramic viewpoint as each character reveals something more. And by the way, Mo turns out to be a major player. Edgar’s story is a coming of age and coming out story wrapped up in a great big multicultural rainbow ribbon. The characters come and go quite literally and return with a vengeance in a showdown worthy of old Hollywood.

*

Richard Edgar is a scientist living in Boston, writing a variety of speculative fiction. He got his start, writing under the pseudonym Ana George, in the writing contests right here at Toasted Cheese. He hung around long enough to be drafted as an editor, under the handle Broker and he is still hosting weekly writing chats and writing articles on the craft of writing. In 2003 he became interested in writing longer fiction, and got involved in National Novel Writing Month, where the goal was to write a fifty thousand-word novel in its entirety within the month of November. After multiple attempts, some successful, a few readable stories emerged, including the recently published Necessary Lies.

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com

A Fire Without Light by Darren C. Demaree

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


A Fire Without Light by Darren C. Demaree

Darren C. Demaree’s timely collection of poems in his latest book, A Fire Without Light (Nixes Mate Books, 2017) is brave, empathetic, and soulful. The poems shine a bold and searing light into the universe of Trump America. The poems were a surprise to me because they are very different from the other collections I have read and reviewed. They were also very exciting to read—an honest, poignant reaction to the political aftermath of an election that for many Americans felt surreal and unbelievable. In fact, my first thoughts were of George Orwell and his dystopian prose.

Demaree’s collection filled me with wonder. There were moments that took my breath away—and still do as I still ponder the poet’s prose during my daily ride to work as I drive by this one giant blue Trump election sign still intact and seemingly weathering its open, wild, and wintry environment quite well. My imagination takes over and I wonder: Has it been replaced since the election? Its message certainly seems appropriate to date.

Also noteworthy is structure. I liked the structure of the collection. The poems have the same title as the front cover, but slightly differ with the addition of numbers and are interestingly not in numerical order. The first poem begins with #3 and the last ends with #702. More than seven hundred poems composed about one subject. Wow! I wondered about that and then about the order, but was soon distracted by their content.

“A Fire Without Light #10” immediately caught my attention as it evocatively addresses a fire as it burns through a forest:

Blunt limbs, refusing to bloom, refusing to be kissed
by the wind, you hold no webbing to catch my heart.

I came to a full stop when I finished and quietly shuddered as I turned the page. Number 10 disturbs me now as I look out my own sunny window to the surrounding pines and wonder about that burning forest, what or whom the fire truly is, and if there may be any trees left in four years.

In “A Fire Without Light #4,” I returned to thoughts of alternate universes and dark places of the twentieth century:

Imagine the outcome is camps. Imagine the outcome is
walls around those camps. Imagine the outcome is love
shredded by barbwire around those camps. Imagine a
fire without light consuming all of us that do not see
the light and cannot lie about seeing the light. Imagine
I could escape. Imagine I choose not to. I know what
happens in a world like this. I did not think I would
have to stop imagining it.

Yet, among some of the disturbing ideas and imagery there is a beauty that transcends. A beauty in metaphor that Demaree brings to the surface in that earthy way of his that evokes such response in me:

“A Fire Without Light #325”

Bark and saw, I read the phrase “peaceful ethnic cleans-
ing” today, and I lost my posture for a second.  I crawled
into my own heart and I died for a second. I went into
the basement to look at all of my own secrets that I
always manage to metaphor into something awake yet
still hidden, and I pulled them down around me…

I know that place the poet speaks of and from. I went there, too, for a moment as I read and reread those beautiful words and thought from the private chambers in my own heart. I remembered the long-ago places I used to go and their keepsakes that only I know. And I felt safe, untouched. And I wondered if one day I might discover an inedible truth and die there, too. The poem continued to speak to me:

I had to remove whole parts of my person to live
in the world I wanted to…

I ached as I read this line. I thought about the words. I thought about the poet, his pain and his message, and the people he speaks of. Americans who are Americans but not Americans (on paper). It hurt.

“A Fire Without Light #86”

There are dead men still running on anger
and racism. There are dead women kept on budgets by
those angry and fearful men. We have universities, but
nobody thinks about islands when they live in a land
without tides…

The words are meaningful, timely. And again I think about how they could also have been written a hundred years ago and have an equal effect. There is light in Demaree’s prose as well, as he also speaks about a return to normal and hope:

“A Fire Without Light #23”

We don’t need more light. We need to breathe. We need
our leaders to not be dragons. Wrong. We’re all dragons
now. We need to learn what to do with all this fire. We
need to secure the safe places.

 

“A Fire Without Light #40”

Timelessness isn’t a thing. Everything ends. Even the
memory of the end will be lost immediately.
What we hold is a small burning. The hope is that there
is enough light to see each other’s faces through the
heat, the smoke, and the vernacular of the elements.
I don’t see anyone right now, but that doesn’t mean this
moment is over. That isn’t what it means at all.

Darren C. Demaree’s  A Fire Without Light is about borders and division in this country. The collection is a kaleidoscope of earthy-political images that mirror the startling 2016 election, the chaos and civil unrest of this presidency that is America today. Demaree speaks directly to the why and wonder of it all.

*

Darren C. Demaree is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently, A Fire Without Light (2017, Nixes Mate Books). His eighth collection Two Towns Over was recently selected the winner of the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and is due out March 2018. He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com