Friday, April 22, 2016

Fire Tongue By Zvi Sesling

Fire Tongue
By Zvi Sesling
Cervena Barva Press
Somerville, Massachusetts
ISBN: 978-0-9966894-4-1
87 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Dark, darker, darkest. Zvi Sesling’s Fire Tongue descends through heat and mist and dust into a black oblivion of verbiage, both tellingly vacant and skillfully wrought.  Each geography, whether internal or external, hesitates in its own claustrophobia, offering up a hellish reality of bleakness, alienation, and tortuous terrain. There is no exit save death, and even death’s freedom leaves not a little doubt. This poet does not mince his words. For Sesling memory alone brings clarity and a measure of calming surcease.

The title poem, Fire Tongue, opens this collection with zeal and sear. Sesling describes an ill-fated priestess as damnable and fierce as an Apache warrior or the tempestuously saintly Joan of Arc. Her auguries embarrass and sting, but somehow convey the bloody truths of humanity. The poet addresses her this way,

O priestess of the mad, why did
they take you from us, your tongue
prophesied, even in anger or hate
your tongue spoke the truth, a prophet
they called you, others said you
were simply mad

An isolated heart pads through the barrooms of night seeking companionship in Sesling’s poem entitled Long Night of a Lonely Heart. His short lines create a pulse, a modulated beat which intensifies and then recedes in a dreamlike pattern leading to despondency first, then flickering hope. One wonders at the ambiguous conclusion,

street lamps are broken
or dead of old age
the heart beat increases
the blue veins of night
offering no comfort no hope
no desires fulfilled
the rotted gut of the streets
leaving the heart empty
each chamber compass points
to the oblivion of night
the heart expanding with hope
receding in despair receding
in loneliness stopping at last
beneath a lonely light
under a window

Consider the curious use of the phrase “stopping at last” referring to the movement of the human heart. That “lonely light” now seems a bit more ominous.

Sesling’s piece Gothic Fog strikes the right chords and adds some nice atmospherics to this collection. It begins typically in a graveyard filled with musty odors rising into the night. Then the poet imbues life with death’s nature under the lunar commander hovering above. Here’s the heart of the poem,

Queen of the Entombed

She gives them the night to waft
across fields and roads into the
windows of houses and to dance
their nightly gavotte

They enter the unsuspecting
who make love or dream
or enter into the bones of
the growling dog

Only a red ball held by a child breaks the urban gloom in City of Gray, a poem in which Sesling’s vision of a joyless civilization on automatic pilot plods on and on. Gregorian chant pervades the airways. The poet uses images from our waning industrial society. He opens the piece with newcomers pursuing in vain their dreams of felicity and joyfulness,

Like blind people they grope through
alleys and narrow streets of the city
of the lost—a purgatory of gray
buildings and gray walls, gray alleys
and streets where gray people lead
gray lives and the wanderers seek
happiness in a city that has none as
people in gray uniforms enter and
leave factories with high gray walls
like a prison and their children run
through the streets and never laugh

In Collector of Calamities, my favorite poem in this collection, Sesling sketches out a very human, if unattractive, trait of contrasting each other’s misfortunes. No matter how bad it gets, someone is worse off, that’s the beauty of life. Black humor does work after all. The poet chooses mortality as his subject and picks particularly gruesome episodes. It gets morbid and uncomfortable. But that’s the point—isn’t it? Sesling sets his details,

In Montreal, a brick from the 17th
floor of a building falls and hits a
woman eating lunch with her husband
at a sidewalk café

A car goes down a highway the wrong way
plows into a family of seven riding
to the beach, all die

Someone does not see a stop sign and strikes
a child in a crosswalk who is walking home
from school

Black and white newsprint cut out, placed
in a bowl, a record of lives extinguished
like flames, a history of calamities by a
collector who has survived…

Delusions and obsessions exist for a reason. The poet pushes the vulnerability of mankind to the fore in his piece entitled Paranoid. For one to sleep at night a lot must be ignored or pushed aside. The banality of evil needs to be hidden from sight. Predators denied victims. In fact security demands closure of all portals. Sesling explains,

The window is shut at night
To keep out the heat of stars
Shades closed so the wolf
Does not see the vulnerable

The window is shut at night
So the long fingers of trees cannot
Ensnare in their master plan to
Enslave humanity

This poet serves his poems neat like good whiskey, but, unlike good whiskey, they do not comfort. They afflict their readers with god-awful truths and disconcerting candor. Society needs both badly. Sesling accommodates with his dark, deft, declarative poetics, and we benefit. Heaven (or hell) help us.

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