Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Breathing for Clouds Poems, Prose & Fiction By Christopher Reilley

Christopher Reilley

 Breathing for Clouds
Poems, Prose & Fiction
By Christopher Reilley
Big Table Publishing
Boston, MA
ISBN: 978-0-9904872-6-5
137 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Poems of deeply felt sentiment and crafted solace always find ardent readers. And so will Breathing for Clouds, Christopher Reilley’s new grab bag of emotive poetry and atmospheric prose. Reilley’s poetic pieces radiate sincerity and formal authority with a twist of versatility and a flexing of heart. Not all the poems work on the same level, and that seems okay, especially when the collection derives its power from plain spoken honesty and genuineness.

Early on, in a poem entitled A Digital Voice, Reilley captures the deluge of his own emotions on a computer screen. As his voices stream in from the cosmos, a  torrent of feelings, he molds the music into a perfectly contained, efficacious image. The poet concludes,

The lunar tide of my mind
floods the screen
with my voice.

Sweeping grandeur
and probing acuity
are captured in words and phrases,
displayed for all,
a jeweled butterfly
in a digital web.

In his piece An Aubade of Spring Reilley questions the power of verse in treating the arthritic soul of a world-weary artist. He uses the traditional “aubade” or morning song to meditate on the potential for rebirth and the green prospects of new love. Here, at winter’s end, is the heart of the poem,

The sonorous drone of winter’s groan—
will it spring into exalted tune
when it warms?
Will it expand into the hum
of a trillion lives beginning?
Would my sodden heart
begin an aria to new beginnings?
Would my curious hands
Weave words of magical cures?

Some of Reilley’s best poems use his constitutional exuberance in interesting ways. He tempers unduly explosive emotions without removing the edginess, and funnels them into hard core imagery. My favorite poem in this collection, Travel Through Desert, is like that. After the matter-of-fact travel instructions (don’t forget water), Reilley transports his readers into a headier zone. He puts it this way,

Something within you just slows—slows.

You make what time you can before the east ignites.

Rolling or stumbling, it is up to you.
And when you learn what life is like
on a match head
you know with certainty
if you want to stay.
You make the decision, every time.
Cannot cross without doing it.

You choose to see the other side,
or you choose not to.

Another of Reilley’s well-modulated pieces entitled Dreams of Travel meditates on the wonder of artistic imagination. The poet captures both the durable and ethereal natures of creation. The artist becomes an intrepid traveler marveling into the lush innards of humanity. Reilley’s image of a shuttered lantern perfectly conveys his persona’s hidden awe. The piece begins impressively with props and process,

I take the bundle of maps and roll them tight,
stack them neatly in the shelf where they will rest,
marveling at my trick of sliding the whole world
into a cardboard tube, wondering if oceans spill,
if mountains will tumble like laundry being dried,
continents trickling away as hourglass dust.

I know that when I sleep, they come to me,
unfurl themselves in order to lay against my skin,
whispering the names of exotic places
with the hot breath of sirocco in my ear,
moonbeams glittering possibilities
across their paper wings.

Cacophony sometimes cancels out the world wonderfully. Reilley considers the casino’s ambiance, an underground of quiet commotion and secret obsessions, in his poem Guilty Gambler. He calculates the poet’s edge in life’s probability game and affirms existence over self-destruction. Rising from dormancy, the poet recommends a future of potential,

Hide the secretive soul away, dammit.

Do you recall the taste of old bruises,
know the name of every slight?
Can you feel the weight of years and acceptance
can you know the strength you have yet to know?

Lie low, lie low, breath as shallow as you might
But you must draw breath once more to live,
And tomorrow’s a decent bet, with better odds
Than finding surcease at the tables.

Scraps of Black, a poem Reilley uses to pin his creative processes together on an observational wall, sets up a proposition of questions and declarations before a rather clever and rewarding conclusion. The poet cobbles together a medley of images,

Why are there so many places
that are interchangeable, and why
do days merge?
I have to talk about rivers
that defeat themselves
by keeping alive.
I only know about objects
That birds lose, but
I can talk about mundane tools with bitterness.
What we have today
Are not memories—
They are faces with tears

Aside from the poetry, three of Reilley’s gritty prose pieces, all subtitled “Another true tale from the Grand Caf√©,” I found especially entertaining. They were well constructed, and, in turn, both funny and seriously pointed. They fit quite well into this satisfying and surrounding medley of heartfelt and principled verses.

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