Friday, June 04, 2010

In the Midst of Love, Horror: Mihaela Moscaliuc, FATHER DIRT

New from Alice James Books is the first collection from Romanian-born Mihaela Moscaliuc, and life will never be the same.

FATHER DIRT captures a stunning amount of the differences in cultures, languages, literally in tongues, as Moscaliuc binds together a childhood embedded in myth, Cold War, and richly historied families. Opening with "How to Ask for My Hand at My Grandmother's Grave," this poet makes it clear that the narrower life of her beloved, presumably a Western (American?) one, would be seen through her grandmother's eyes as deprived:
Don't tell her about ashes thrown to winds, don't say
you've never spilled red wine onto the earth
to quench your father's thirst, or that you never read him
the Sunday paper.
Then, by braiding bleach-slaughtered kittens, teen pregnancy and suicide, racist attitudes toward a gypsy boy in school, and more, Moscaliuc summons the scent and sounds of another life in another world. It is the Old World, in multiple ways. Yet it is also the seedbed of the new.

Moscaliuc doesn't hesitate to pair moments from the two worlds: a pregnant friend bathing with delight and caressing her beautifully swollen body, and the round golden shape of her own small son's belly as he bathes and discovers his "pupa," his penis. Or the insight of an immigrant adult, with the memory of an orphanage. The sting and venom of bees, with their honey. This is intense craft from a person who knits garments out of her own spinnings, a warm and colorful fabric that doesn't shrink from displaying either love or cruelty. Rape of a puppy; treatment of pinworms; the thoughtless malice of untaught children -- these poems, in their fierce ragged forms, form a cage of muscle and nerve to hold the strange sacrifices of life.

One of the last poems is called "You Ask Where These Poems Come From" and begins:
my motherland's hunger lines and secret
lairs, shepherd coats and Russian hats

on deer hooks, abandoned flesh
propped against ravaged trash bunkers

vaguely familiar graves which I feed
fresh daisies and pickled rain
And here is the heart of this marvelous book: the notion that rain itself can be pickled, sharp, salted, so that all the memories and insights here have flavor and sting, as well as grief and grimness and the exaltation of survival.

FATHER DIRT allows us to see what happens when we choose to keep the doors to our past open, and gaze on our selves and our worlds, and then open the pathways to our tongues. How fortunate we are that Moscaliuc brings us hers.

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