Monthly Archives: August 2009

At night, the dead: Read. Write. Poem.’s Virtual Book Tour Stops By…


* Originally published here as part of Read. Write. Poem.’s Virtual Book Tour, this review can also be found in Poet’s Quarterly.


I am the second stop on the Read. Write. Poem. Virtual Book Tour. As such, please enjoy this break from my regularly scheduled vacation!  And, please, if after reading this review, you would like to purchase your very own copy of Lisa Ciccarello’s At night, the dead, please visit the Blood Pudding Press Etsy Shop!


You lock the door. You lock the window. You dream of the dead.


Most of us fear the dead. We fear their reach from beyond, their spectral presence in the dark, looming over us while we sleep, the awful things they might do. After reading Lisa Ciccarello’s prize winning chapbook, At night, the dead, published by Blood Pudding Press, it becomes clear that, though the dead are most certainly here, they are not here to do us harm. Rather, they love us, the dead whose love is just a little series of letters. They would like to be remembered, and maybe to have a voice.


We are supposed to house the dead in our mouths, but we let them stay in our throats when we sing.


The dead, it seems, seek a voice. In the dual role of poet and medium, Ciccarello chooses not only to house the dead in her mouth, but to sing:

I am the dead I am the dead
I am the dead. The song I know.

The mouth is the entryway, the tunnel through which the dead find their voice. Ciccarello’s haunting lyrics–surreal, pensive, often mysterious– linger in our psyche, long after they have provided the release the dead are seeking.


Just as mortals, having seen a ghost, will question their own vision, so readers of At night, the dead may question what is real and what is Ciccarello’s fantastic imagination.   The dead put their fingers in your mouth, the narrator asserts. Despite the next line, You are dreaming, you will soon question whether you, the reader, are awake or asleep, whether there are fingers in your mouth or not. Ciccarello’s stream of consciousness prose poems lull you into a sort of waking sleep-walk. In time, we (readers) take on a spectral form, hovering over each poem, studying it as the dead study the living when:

you are asleep & inside the dream the dead rise up & their bodies are gone but their love has a form & they come to love you but it isn’t a dream…


Like the dead, we become ghosts, floating through each piece, accepting it’s improbability for ethereal truth.


I want to keep telling you about the dead, the narrator says. They write the same word over and over again. Ciccarello does not write the same word over and over again, though there is a ghostly echo to the repeating clues she gives us in each of these sixteen poems.


Indeed, taken as a whole, the collection is a tightly woven tapestry of encounters with the dead, stitched together by recurring threads: salt on widow sills, luminous coins, burned paper, house and home. Comprised mostly of prose poems, each piece links almost imperceptibly to the next, most often through these cleverly repeated images.


Coupled with Ciccarello’s skill at crafting poems that read like small prayers or incantations, such repetition serves not to keep the dead at bay, but to welcome them, honor and invite them into the house they remember and give them

Everything they ever wanted: the window view, soap that floats, someone pressing down hard. Lips made out of paper. A smile that shines (just a flame at his mouth & so what).


We want to remember what was so close to our faces, the narrator tells us. So, too, the dead/ remember;/ yea & it is not enough. As Ciccarello’s haunting narrative continues in its melodic refrain, such surreal reasoning begins to make sense. Our home is full of beautiful boy & come on girl. The dead “have a home in the ground, but they forget.” Is it possible the dead are us? You and I, questing readers?


Without doubt, the dead are a metaphor for something. Just what is elusive, so we must continue to read and look for clues. In providing such mysterious little gems, Ciccarello—poet, medium, mouth-piece for the dead–does not disappoint. The sheer lyricism of her language can make a clue out of a seemingly irrelevant detail. Take for instance, this gorgeous morsel of truth:

Here is how I control my heart: I string each thought sparkling behind the next. In the patient necklace each will be touched.


Overall, At night, the dead is a haunting collection, though not in the traditional sense of ghosts and fear. Instead, it is a series of surreal linked vignettes, brief but memorable encounters with the elusive dead (who may or may not be you and I), ferrying a message that may or may not come clear as the final poem exhales its last syllable.


Do not be surprised, when, after you have finished that last poem, you find yourself going about your own days and nights trying to discover your own dead and what they are asking for. Do not be afraid when the salt is gone the dead touch your mouth.

Good things happen when you’re not _________


…insert verb here.  I wasn’t looking/thinking/paying attention when out of the blue, my pal Jo asked, very quietly, if Carolee and I would like to be editors on her beautiful, gorgeous literary journal ouroboros review.  I expected fanfare!  Loud trumpets!  An Ed McMann look-alike at the door with balloons and flowers!

This is a dream come true.  Very much like when I stumbled on the building for rent that would eventually become my art studio.  I had always daydreamed about opening a children’s art gallery.  Then it just happened.  Well, I have always daydreamed about being an editor of a literary journal.  I have been bugging Carolee for years to start one with me. 

The DetailsChristine Swint, the other founder (along with Jo) of ouroboros, is heading back to school for her MFA (lucky, lucky!).  This led to her very tough decision to step down from editing the journal.  Life changes, timing, instant karma…Jo had a need for some assistance and the rest is…well, not history, but (hopefully) a beautiful future!

Please check out the current (and past) issues of ouroboros.  It’s gorgeous!

PS: Ironically, I just realized, we are, all three of us…suburban mothers.  But we are so much more!

Poem wherein I try to engage my inner dog person


This morning the dog


peeled back her short-haired underbelly
to reveal a giant S. No zipper, no stitching
no sexy pull like a stripper losing magic pants


just an opening up—think first date, third beer
the time of night when details float from the cup
of a stranger’s open mouth
as moths circle a bare bulb.


So, the dog. Have you had your suspicions?
Best friend, loyal companion. Just pet your dog,
the martial arts instructor said. He was from Hawaii
wore flowered shirts, sandals. He had toes the color
of dark lager—five of them could kill you with one swift strike.


The dog. Superhero? Black and white mutt,
part Collie, herding me day after day in circles,
always leading me home.
Would she save me from a burning building?


Swoop in at the right moment
to spirit me away from the man—he seemed pleasant enough–
about to kidnap/maim/violate her hapless human?


I’ve never called her a bitch, though she wears
a pink collar, has the scar proving she could have been
a mother, if the universe hadn’t had other plans for her.


It’s all been done before, I tell her. Keep your power
to yourself.
Lesson one for lonely women
and superheroes: Never reveal your true identity.

Superman meets June Cleaver, Remarks on Her Resemblance to His Wife


A Urgent Message for the Citizens of Metropolis

He won’t show you how
he loves you
………………………(please, wash his tights, still)
but watch, if you will, how the snake
population in your fair city dwindles,
lawns, sidewalks, thresholds
free from writhing, poison, ugliness.

His flight (from you) may appear closer, faster
in your mirror—the constant glare of tail lights
……………………..(red cape must be dry cleaned)
nothing more than a signal that the end is about to begin.

Men of steel, after all. Iron sharpens iron
……………………….(no need to iron the suit)
and your pink skin, though soft as serpent flesh,
dulls the blade of his desire
to do good, fight evil, wear hearts
of the weak on his sculpted bicep.

Stand firm in your resolve
to plod one more day
on your golden streets
……………………….(what he leaves behind is precious)
your hero will return in time for dinner.


Another installment in the superhero series–light on the sex this time. Visit here or here to learn more! Really! Visit Carolee! She says it so well!

Note to self: Trying to convey the lonliness of marriage. Snakes & doe flesh don’t exactly work well together. Try different images… serpent flesh?

The Supporting Actress Gets Stage Fright


Pay no attention to that man in the chair

his horse is parked in the garage
rusted shoes nailed to the roof
for good luck. Good luck swinging

the old cowboy up and out of recline–
surgeon’s dusty trail having sliced the wind
right from John Wayne. He’ll grunt and moan

before he draws that pistol.
No need to be frightened.
Little lady, this is a movie

the blue sky is a painting
the shallow breathing is a soundtrack.
Stuff those jitters in your bonnet and learn your lines.


After a brief hiatus, wherein the mother/poet ferried the children to the mountain for some rain fun, the poet/mother has 5 mornings to herself, wherein she will continue on her quest to write scintillating poems about superheroes (or pop culture heroes in chaps).