Sunday, October 24, 2010
Cervena Barva Press
The wonderful thing about poetry is that it so often speaks to you through the reading. And Mary Bonina’s book Clear-Eye Tea did, indeed, speak to me. In particular her poem, “Small Town: A Death,” rang its bell loud and clear, triggering memories of a friend lost to a train, the same way the small girl Bonina writes about was lost.
The commuter train this morning
on the tracks that run behind the school
blows its whistle as it passes by, for the girl
who was killed the afternoon before,
crossing over, taking a short cut home,
a hole in the fence patched up from time to time.
I didn’t say that what you heard would always be happy. But, when you hear it in the reading, it’s a soft affirmation, a hug that can comfort in the empathy that you, as a reader, receive or give. In “Small Town: A Death,” Bonina takes a look at how the tragic loss of a life in such a public manner changes the landscape of grieving,
But at the girl’s house, a police car was posted,
out front the vans and wired poles and lights. . .
while others searching
for a story gathered around the corner.
then Bonina ends with a sucker-punch to our already sore gut
How cruel the piled up fallen leaves
coloring the driveway, blanketing the front lawn.
But death and grieving are not Bonina’s only subjects in this work that gives honor to the everyday experiences of life, to the ordinary moments that raise their poetic wings in flight. In “The Reindeer of Green Hill,” Bonina celebrates visiting a father at a factory. Her words the echo of four small children poignant in their love
The whistle blew and my father
appeared with the herd of men
outside the loading dock.
We brought him sweets:
a cookie or a plum
pushed through the fence.
We collected his kisses.
Mary Bonina shows us vivid images. She confronts us with what is real and asks us not to avert our eyes from the weeping or the laughter. The words ask us to meditate on the images, on the tactile emotions that pour themselves through the strophes, and the words ask us to find the gap that leads us to the clear eye tea of her title. A tea that will take us to a place of Zen, if we allow the paradoxes to steep within us, just as the tea ceremonies of Japan are meant to do.
There is water and there is fire within this book. Sound the gong when you pick it up and allow yourself to experience the mantra of the words. You will not want to sound the gong again until you have read cover-to-cover. Then you will have come to know the inspiration of the joy, the sadness, the emptiness and fullness of life as Mary Bonina has described it for us.
***Rene Schwiesow is a writer and poet. She is the co-host of The Art of Words poetry venue in Plymouth, MA