Reading Djelloul Marbrook’s Riding Thermals to Winter Grounds
Leaky Boot Press (UK), 114 pp, $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-909849-27-3
Publication date: APRIL 10, 2017
By Kevin Swanwick
Djelloul Marbrook's latest poetry collection offers us a flying gaggle of poems that invoke rich, abstract paintings. Those familiar with the late Middle Age Christian mystical work, The Cloud of Unknowing, may find a postmodern abstract expression of its central ideas in this work. And we are reacquainted with a fantasy most of us experience in early childhood: taking flight and gliding over life, arms stretched.
“Riding Thermals,” the title poem, suggests what we might see from above and raises many questions. Perhaps instead of standing in places of dread, we might fly over them and having grown wings, move on to a far point, like Montauk, in a great escape.
…Turn off the radio,
lock the doors, put the trash in the street;
the fair means to Montauk
grow out of my shoulder blades.
These poems are full of inversions, carrying a sense of consequence about being here instead of there. Questions are asked. How much of my path is determined by me versus the actions of others or by pervasive, but often denied, forces of nature? Once we’ve taken to the fantasy of flight, so much more is possible and the magical becomes real. This new aerial foothold is used in delightful ways to conjure relations across vast time and space.
From “Diet of whales”:
a caper’s not your pearl
and with a sop of bread you help me
remember when I was the diet of whales
Part two of the collection, titled Deuteronomy 23:2, establishes the outsider’s perspective, unaccepted, while juxtaposing the pain of rejection with the detachment of a camera lens. Sometimes the dreamer-conscience is addressed by its awakened host and offered observations on the role that dreams and memory play, like surrealist paintings full of subconscious distortions.
From “Wary greetings”:
We are strangers even to our fondest memories
and they have conflated themselves and learned
to ambush what our eyes first saw
on its journey to the brain. Memories become
guerrillas fighting for a cause…
But the dreamer must be protected and allowed to roam free as in “Other sleeplessness to do”:
unsure of anything but that you fell asleep
and may wake up in my arms
if you climb the rope of dreams,
and if you fall it won’t be
the first time I loitered foolishly.
As with flight, a strong sense of movement pervades this work. Sharp alliteration and rhythms reveal how we struggle to carry emotional baggage from our damaged pasts while comporting ourselves to established standards. Inescapably, we wonder if it is fakery or compassion at any given moment, heroic or pitiful. From “Savage in your compassion”:
You you you ululating, galaxies of remembrances,
explain why I sit back to walls in cafés of other worlds…
…lying to shapeshifting emissaries
about what I do and do not see,
assuring them of my complete attention while
bestiaries and aviaries of where I have been riot
behind the wall…
…one imposter to another imposing calm, pretending all is well
assuring them our ghostly luggage is resolved and put away
but knowing we are stopgap measures, chaos boarded up,
left behind, looting in the streets, opportunity spurned
because we had lives to live in the clearings up ahead.
To disdain the soaking woods for the clearing is the peril
of forgetting why you live, a grabber’s game,
a collector’s loss…
The poem “Jerusalem” imagines our long genetic past and its potential determinism. As a prayer-poem, the poet represents, textually, the shape of a chalice and offers a form of absolution to the struggling conscience.
The past is not my eminent domain,
it was taken by corsairs to Tripoli
or removed by Turks to Istanbul…
Domain’s as evil as a name;
neither belongs to us; they're sticks
picked up to help us manage hard terrain…
Jerusalem’s where we go to divest our business interests,
otherwise we haven’t got a prayer.
Section three, Beyond Montauk, completes the architecture of a long journey. There is an arriving, but not an end. The journey into unknowing will continue but on a last stop, there is a sweet look at where a young, tender kiss could have gone, in “Beyond Montauk”:
We should have gone on to Babylon
to see a movie, not swim
in each other’s eyes.
This collection had me grabbing for the dictionary to fully engage its erudite canvas of themes from the early Common Era, bringing together history, art and the perspective of a long spiritual quest. Bravo.
Kevin Swanwick resides in the Hudson Valley of New York with his wife, two children, mother- in-law and three dogs. He finds the world a terribly complex place and likes to write about it from the perspective of a grateful citizen of Carthage who got to watch the Romans invade but was spared because of his accidental usefulness. His essays and some fiction can be found in Elephant Journal, The Strange Recital and on his blog, in no particular order.