Review of Angles of Departure by Marcene Gandolfo
Cincinnati: Cherry Grove Collections, 2014. 96 pp. $18.00, paper.
The origins of the word "loss" refer to destruction (Old English), or something that is loose. The word is so frequently used and the emotion so universally felt that finding authors who explore it is not a difficult task. Finding those who can do it in ways that are new and haunting for a reader is another story. A recent favorite read that holds loss at its center is Angles of Departure by Marcene Gandolfo (Cherry Grove Collections, 2014).
I have dawdled in reviewing Gandolfo's book as parts of its subject matter hit very close to home, but the book is a poignant and fluid treatise on how we move past loss while still dragging its shadow behind us. The word origins about "looseness" and "destruction" both apply here — the loose threads of memory gathered and respun, the destruction of expectations observed and rebuilt. Whether the author is discussing the steps away from a home, the slow-fade of ill parents, or the devastation of losing a child, her language is deft and incisive.
The first section of the book focuses on the loss of a child, and this loss permeates poems throughout the collection. In the opening poem "Anamnesis," a prose block describes a dream summer home in almost a fanciful way — I built it one night in a sugared dream. The lights/ are always on and the oven bakes cookies...—but as the speaker in the poem wakes, the reader is hit with The doctor says no/heartbeat and I see the child is only a folded cloud on an/ultrasound. Then I say my summerhouse is empty now. This whole section is stirring—the struggle of keeping a sick pet alive the summer after losing a baby in "Lost," a fable about moving forward and taking chances in "If," the inexplicable language of what is gone in "From the Margin." During an origami lesson with the speaker's daughter in "In December," the reader feels the aftershocks:
When we finished folding
I couldn't tell her it happened again.
I couldn't say, No baby
in May. I could only
carry the paper constellation,
like shards of some
heavenly wreckage, to the tree
The second and third sections of the book introduce different challenges, including the failing health of a parent and leaving relationships and places behind, always with the ghost of the lost child looming. "Why the Kiss Goodbye" considers lingering after the sale of a home: Why clip a piece of thread/from the withering drape./Why one last smell of yellow/linen closet. Why one more/thumbprint against a crack/in the bathroom mirror. Memories take many different forms: old coats and teacups in "Kept," a press/ against the rug, a smudge of dust, no stain/too great to be erased in "Taking Down the Crib," a missing shoe in a frostbitten city in "Missed" and an empty white/calendar square/though I rise from bed/heavy as though you/were with me in "Your Birthday That Was Not."
I found each poem moving, and the variation in form (prose poems, sonnets, both traditional and jagged lineation) give the reader a roadmap of emotional touchstones to contemplate the controlling idea in new ways. In "Dream in a Forgotten Language," the speaker questions:
configure a new language, beginning again
and again, but where in the body
does this longing arise?
Here we see those word origins come to play - how loose and tentative the nature of loss can be, how we observe destruction and yet feel the need to rebuild without really understanding how or why. This forward movement in the shadow of the past is how we all live, and in the last poem "Beatific," Gandolfo leaves us with a lovely, tentative hope, the only kind there is —
If you listen beyond the siren sounds and beggars' pleas,
you hear the harmonies of choirs that light a sky on fire.
You can purchase Angles of Departure here.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as six chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Red Bird Chapbooks. She spends her days teaching middle school, trying to convince teenagers that words matter. She is a poetry editor for Extract(s), and her second collection is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2016.