Friday, May 24, 2013

The Grind By Michael Cirelli

The Grind
By Michael Cirelli
Hanging Loose Press
Brooklyn, New York
ISBN: 978-1-934909-33-1
88 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

There’s something about a good breakfast diner that both comforts and reassures. It begins your day with needed nutritional rituals and provides you with a hopeful context to carry out into the real, less accommodating, world. And, if you have chosen your diner well, your coffee mug will never be less than half full.

In his new book of poems, The Grind, Michael Cirelli delivers a meditative homage to family, food, and hard work in an impressive poetic format. His narratives delve deeply and emotionally into this uniquely American restaurant institution with sometimes surprising results. Most of the poems in this collection are set in or revolve around Cirelli’s family’s actual diner, called J.P. Spoonem’s, located, and apparently still operating, in Providence Rhode Island.

In the initial poem, Dedication, the poet speaks directly to his mother with undisguised admiration. He says,

Mom, I know you want me to keep you out
of my poems, but people need to know

that you remember them by how they like
their eggs, that when I asked about the certificate

framed on the wall of our family restaurant
you told me, while refilling my coffee,

that the Mayor sent it for thirty years of doin’ this.

Right at the book’s get-go Cirelli establishes the work ethic that propels his family in their efforts to succeed. The poem Wedding Day describes the hours leading up to his parents’ marriage ceremony,

Hard work
Is open for business
Even on
His wedding day
Dad nervously
Buttered white toast
While my mom
Took the day off
To prepare her
Platinum feathered hairdo…

The poem Rivers, the masterwork of this collection, portrays the generative and connective power of the waitresses in Cirelli’s family. The poet puts it thusly,

My great grandmother, my Nana, my ma:
All waitresses full of rivers. Fit a river

Into a vein, and it looks like lightning
Or a supernova. Galaxies of rivers in the blood.

When the clock strikes Open, my mother opens
Up a new river. Chit chat flows.

Where I’m from it was the rivers that turned
Everything: river to turn water

Wheel to turn gears to turn looms to make textiles.
Rivers make costume jewelry and silverware…

Many of us have experienced the phenomenon of returning as observers to a past life of intensity and lessons. The poet describes this well in Scuba Diving in the Kitchen Sink. In this section he meets the former co-worker, who he then dedicates the poem to,

…Marty’s still there

Having not aged a bit, his thick
Glasses fogged from the Hobart’s steam.

In front of the house, everything
Has changed. Not enough stools

To seat all the angels of Edgewood—
I reminisce with Marty about

My time in the kitchen, like
A veteran of The Battle for Blue Collar,

Like the Patron Saint of Plates.
But Marty scrubs the hyperbole spotless.

Cirelli’s piece titled The Taste of Love is a wonderfully evocative love poem. The phrasing melts in your mouth. The poet says,

and her lips bent
like prawn over flame
because she may have forgotten
then remembered—and that always
opens a smile—or because
she was anticipating it,
anticipating me
being me, and she loves me being me,
or because she wants more love
and more love
and more, like the bread we ask for…

Like Joyce’s Ulysses—only with food! Here’s another snippet, the ending of the same poem,

And I pour the oil/drip the balsamico
And pinch the salt,
To ward off the eyes, gooey
As oysters, staring at,
Envying us—gracing our way
Through dinner:
A dinner so good
That I could die with its taste
In my mouth.

In the poem Down with the King Cirelli speaks directly to the “King of Vegetables,” the eggplant. It’s pretty comic and exhibits some real depth. Here’s a for instance,

… I abhor the
Metaphor that exploits your name
In Sicily. I’ll go with the ancient
Indian: “King of Vegetables”
Solanum melongena! Outta space!
Sometimes long and curved like
Ganesh’s trunk. Sometimes fat and
Round like Ganesh’s belt…

The title poem, The Grind, praises the routines of everyday work and that work’s ability to keep one connected to a larger society. Someone in the Grind gets tired of it after a while.  But without the Grind one’s status is lost. The poet says,

…The Grind turns our feet
to ash. When Mom got in the car accident,
she couldn’t work for five months.
The first week off was fine, but slowly
lonely started to buzz in her ear,
and she couldn’t sleep,
like when I moved away to college,
and she couldn’t eat. College was the myth
that the Desk was better than The Grind.
The myth of: so you don’t have to
work like we do. Her first day back
I called her, and she told me, It’s good
to get back to the Grind.

Waiting for Poems nails the poetic conundrum perfectly. Poets wait to compose, the good ones, that is. Their poems are out there but often need time. The muse commands. The poet answers. Cirelli states it like this,

… Boiled eggs are low
and underappreciated. My first book (five years),
still low art—and when I tip my pen in the direction
of my father, I realize I haven’t waited long enough
to get it right. Haven’t the craft yet to craft him scrupulous,
in his long white apron, behind a pot of simmering
tomatoes, waiting.

Well I think Cirelli’s Dad has found his poem. And I think this delicious poetic collection will soon find its well-deserved audience.


  1. Tantalizing review -- makes me hungry in a satisfied sort of way.

  2. Anonymous7:38 AM

    Thanks Dennis and Doug, you have always done right by me, and I am grateful.

    I owe you breakfast at Spoonem's!

    With thanks,

    Michael Cirelli