A Review by the Editors of A Day’s Encounter
In the last few months, we have presented a few works of poetry by Michael H. Brownstein. Recently, we have been honored to receive his new book, A Slipknot into Somewhere Else: A Poet’s Journey to the Borderlands of Dementia, (Cholla Needles press, 95 pgs, $8). We do not as a rule review chapbooks or books of poetry, but when this one landed on our desk, we decided we had to make an exception.
Divided into two parts, Brownstein’s poetry comes alive in a number of exciting ways. The introduction actually takes us on a journey into the head of an individual with dementia with lines of imagery that are both vivid and thought provoking.
And they take the gray water into who they are
So it continues into years and years,
another century of weeks and days
When we reached the conclusion of the first part, we found ourselves in the hands of someone who seemingly knows how the mind works, and wanders; how it can focus, and then go off to another plain; how it discovers, and then recovers:
I do not know where I am and I do not know how I got here. The woman’s voice on the phone gave me directions
Then the next page reveals:
to the wrong place—a roofing supply warehouse. I wanted to go to Jeff City Industries.
This is a unique and challenging piece of work. Turn the page and again Brownstein catches us off guard with another image that makes you think:
Do you know how clouds cover the sky until every path of blue is gone and only the discolorations of gray remains?
Between the introduction and the conclusion, are a number of poems full of breathpause, daybreak, dysfunctionality, mismatched bone alignments, breathbrake, blackouts insomnia, and advocate of a life-inadequacy. From the first poem “Noise” to the last one, “Home”, there is much to enjoy and much to ponder over.
…the finality of the great oak
Collapsing in the forest of vowels.
–A Walk Through the woods with Friends, Associates, and Perhaps Enemies
In the end, only the swamp of flesh,
a tide pool of artery
and heartbeat, rind of cacti,
rind of lemon, rind of orange
–One Winter Beyond the Hills
This is how we learn the language of worms.
–How to Build Your First Casket
Simple images with a complexity that draws you further and further into the book:
With sleep, a hiding place
The man you saved in a street fight
The woman who became your wife
The dog you let follow you home
— A Day Dream in the Night
One poem connected to another, one idea becoming a life force, and this is only part one. In Part 2, Brownstein includes a number of poems that are both deep and disturbing. “44 Bullets” tells the take of the murder of a Chilean activist, Victor Jara, at the hands of soldiers told to kill him. Here is the first stanza in Part 3:
Then there is a wonderful silence
and a great richness in smoke.
The mind fills itself with apple slices,
a fourteenth bullet,
cinnamon and curry, fifteen,
ripe pears and huckleberry juice, sixteen,
and the color of leaves,
the color of wool,
the color of snow, seventeen, eighteen,
nineteen, dripping down to the valley.
The soldiers cannot stop themselves
glazed with blood and flesh,
their hearts and eyes wide open.
Other poems wander off into different directions. There is a depth of feeling here and directions to take and ponder. There are also too many excellent poems for us to mention them all and even though they are not connected to the first part, we felt they were, adding a further strength to this highly recommended volume of poetry.
We would like to conclude this review by sharing one of our favorite pieces, “Home” in its entirety:
This is the sky that falls over us,
the small injuries of daylight slip away,
our breath settling into karma and pause.
Inside the kitchen, the fresh smells of pandesal,
steaming black tea with a taste of cinnamon,
a platter of kamote, prawns, and sea cucumber.
Everywhere shouts of hello mabuting kaibigan,
mabuhay and soft gabi, magandang gabi,
soft night, good evening, welcome home.
In the morning the air almost turquoise,
cloud cover a myriad of streams entering a river,
sunlight in the distance, sunlight behind walls.
Day begins with irritations and inflections,
a quietude and a symphony of cymbals,
a cacophony of doors, voices, the clatter of plates.
Longganisa, milkfish belly, and hot tsokolate
thin enough to inhale, and then the sun yellows,
a car arrives, another day with people I never knew.