At Night, by Lisa Ciccarello. Boston MA: Black Ocean. 72 pages. $14.95, paper.
I imagine Lisa Ciccarello a sort of Nick Cave from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, walking up to the microphone: I’m not going to tell them about the dead. I’m not going to tell them about the dead.
“I want to keep telling you about the dead.”
Ciccarello read in Seattle in August, a sufficiently special occasion to warrant me leaving my apartment, and I recreate her voice in my head as I turn the pages. In the back bar of art gallery and event space Vermillion, Ciccarello’s voice was soft with intention. Hers is the best reading of the night. Hers is the best reading I have ever been to. A book of spells is good, but a spell said aloud is magic. When you read At Night, whisper it out the window. Intone it down a narrow hall. Chant it to the sheets, the curtains, whatever billows. It is an incredible book.
Excerpt from At Night:
You lock the door. You lock the window. You dream of the dead. You salt the sills from the inside. You are going to dream. You check the window. You burn a piece of paper. You burn a piece of hair. You check the door. You put a root beneath your pillow. You put the candle out. You bite the root before you put it beneath your pillow. You dream of the dead. You keep a candle burning. You bite the root. The dead put their fingers in your mouth. You are dreaming. You draw the dead & burn the paper. The dead have no doors. They have no salt. Each one takes a grain of salt. There are more dead than salt. You bolt the door. You are dreaming. When the salt is gone the dead touch your mouth. When the salt is gone you buy more salt. When the salt is gone the root does nothing. The salt does nothing.
Ciccarello’s first full-length poetry collection, At Night had been on my to-read list since its debut this past April. From the runic cover hinting at secrets within to Ciccarello’s twitter handle and my own obsession with salt, I knew it was only a matter of time, and in August the book found me by surfacing as one of two selections for the Blood Milk Book Club. Blood Milk is a renowned independent jewelry line I have long adored, hand-forged by a woman with a background in literature and an aesthetic to die for. Seeing two of my loves – poetry & talismans – paired thusly was a unique sort of joy. Please, please, more cross-craft collaborations and promotions!
My own background is in linguistics, which also lends itself to a heightened appreciation of Ciccarello’s work. Many of her poems read like prose – if prose were poured into an alembic and distilled into its most powerful essence. Her syntax is frequently atypical but never jarring – “Even & inside; against cry against bite down. What was not tender.” Her sentences hum with a rolling velocity – “The bowls are the color of bone & the bone is shaped like an egg. To make the bowl you must break the shell. / My mouth is a bowl: shell & yolk. I know the difference between full & filled” – and are punctuated with a deft hand, each period deliberately inviting a pause, each “and” instead an ampersand rushing the reader onward.
At Night is a pleasure to read, and re-read. The form and content are inseparable and so doubly powerful. Repetition of words and themes puts each poem hand in hand with the next: night, moon, mirror, black. The setting is unknown, the century irrelevant. And yet… is the setting our house? Is the century our century? It’s a potent, dark little maelstrom of a book, fit for sages and fools, acolytes and heretics, the living and the dead. And though poetry is so often enjoyed only by editors of journals or those who are poets themselves, At Night can and should ensnare anyone who picks it up. Reader, beware.
Order Lisa Ciccarello’s At Night (Black Ocean) here.
Sonya Vatomsky is a Moscow-born, Seattle-raised ghost and the author of poetry collection Salt is for Curing (Sator Press) and chapbook My Heart in Aspic (Porkbelly Press). They are an asst. editor at Fruita Pulp, where they also review poetry. Find them by saying their name five times in front of a bathroom mirror or at @coolniceghost and sonyavatomsky.tumblr.com.
Tags: At Night, Fruita Pulp, Lisa Ciccarello, Poetry, Review, Sonya Vatomsky