A review Melissa Reeser Poulin’s Rupture, Light

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Melissa Reeser Poulin has gathered 23 poems into a work of depth, quiet grace, and healing. In Rupture, Light she calls to a loneliness you didn’t realize you had. She offers you her loss, and makes space for you to share yours. She has carefully created space for you at her table, and she’s gathered things she loves: a field blue with dusk, little apples clustered on the bough, honeysuckle, cherries, bees, the thousand seeds winging down yearly.

Her language is an important naming, it hallows our small work, what we yearn for, what’s taken from us. To read this book is to trust this writer; to know that her rupture will spill tears as surely as it spills light; to know that we’re held in both.

I love this book in its wholeness, I’m hesitant to crack it apart. But, I suppose that’s part of the invitation.

The first poem is “Unbelief”, and it is in a null state that we begin. Melissa doesn’t ask us to believe anything, nothing will be taken for granted; we’re not even asked for, or exposed to, faith. Yet. Indeed, in this state, she doesn’t trust that spring will come.

And yet, things do come, life emerges, though through a torn net. We move into the work through rupture, but Melissa doesn’t hurry the light. She writes with tenderness and care, humility even, and from this place we come quietly beside her. Restrained lines and carefully measured meter at times loosen into a cascade of dreaming, and praying.

She moves us from the “un” into “non”, the darkness of grief and loss. In the devstating poem “Nullus Partus”, she writes, “I had a child/but she had no bones/he had no sex no name she had/no heartbeat no/birthday.” There is no easy redemption here, and that’s good, and right. Melissa invites us into the pain and makes no easy repair; rather, she asks us to be with her there. It’s in the remarkable strength of her writing that allows us to do exactly that, fully.

There’s something of the dark waters in the time before creation. Melissa has both a watertight language, and feels like a torn net. She’s tenuously balanced in a small boat as her mouth fills with waves, praying for the deliverance of solid ground. Which she finds; which will hold her grief, now a solid thing, now in motion.

Propelling the motion on this ground is Basho, drawn from Narrow Road to the Interior. We find stability, and begin tending the details of shared life. Melissa tries to surrender her “uns” – unskilled, unwilling – as she nurtures belief and the fruit at night, as her partner urges her outside. She surrenders to the work and asks for more; she’s making home and yearning into more.

A particular skill that Melissa possesses is her ability to convey alienation in an intimate way. Perhaps that’s the fundamental place of the poet, displaced dislodged disarranged somehow from the ordinary flow such that perspective is attained, and this perspective is harvested for the benefit of being returned to the stream of our evolution, or at least our healing. She leaves a home, she contemplates the wilderness of her yard, she meets and cares for new life, and in all these turns, her hands are filled with the work, her spirit speaking its deep knowing.

Water continues to be a complicated relationship as she tries to surrender to the child’s join in it, knowing what a precious gift it is, knowing where fires have come and consumed trees, knowing it may be something lost in the future. And in “Transplant”, she writes, “Rain spills like change/from great pockets./Still my skin resists,/the way abandoned soil/forgets its love of water.”

Melissa has summoned devastating loss and leaving, but she imbues it with warmth and grace. This is central to her gift and her sublime touch. The woman of these poems has suffered and been visited by grace, her hurt finds meaning in an open heart. When her husband journeys to a distant land in search of his ancestral origins, she welcomes ghosts and knows how to call him home. She softens stone with snow, melts snow with the heat of her hands, and in her “List” of the sublime mundane, “My heart/pours water, the neighbor smiles…”

She brings to mind another woman of the edge who’s looked into loneliness and joy, Amelia Earhart, who wrote a beautiful poem that begins, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”

As we approach the conclusion, and her final poem, “Yellow”, I’m reminded of the Hebrew concept of “Tikkun Olam” – as I understand it, the repair of the world, the reunion of the scattered sparks with their source in the divine fire. Melissa has brought us through this winter and its loss, its ghosts and snow and cold, to find melting gold, the sun, and things to come. Rupture becomes, not ripping loss, but the opening of birth, light tearing in. A masterful turn into redemption. Melissa is fully here, a’glow in her life and family and birth. The last rupture comes, but it is one that tears through isolation and loneliness, one that tears a cloud to let light through. She sews, and in her work is the repair of the world.

 

 

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Brushing the Dust Off

I live in Portland and I’m surrounded by artists. Painters, poets, musicians, shamans, dancers, blacksmiths, bakers, clothing designers, woodworkers. Friends who shape and reshape their world of contemplation, history and future, hurt and joy, and make an invitation of their love in motion.

Some friends created an art gallery in their garage, called 1122 Gallery, and it’s wonderful. They host artists and great opening parties, and there are readings of poems and other pieces, and wine, and cheese, and kids playing in the grass.

Recently the AWP was in Portland, and the friends at 1122 hosted a bonanza of readings in relation to it. Folks from all over the country came to the mic and offered their voices, while the walls held the great art of Stacy Elaine Dacheux.

All of this is to say that I’m so grateful to be surrounded by people who are doing such exciting work, and the sheer radiance of it pierces the haze around my own practice and inspires me to to dive back in.

So, here I am again, sending a few words at a time into the ether. Perhaps some of this will organized around my work. And some of this will be in service of honoring others’ work. I haven’t posted here in years, but I’m going to offer two posts back to back, if the rusty gears of my wordpress can handle it.

The first one, this one, will end by letting you know that my friend Melissa Reeser Poulin is a fantastic poet who recently published a fantastic book of poetry called Rupture, Light.

My second post, coming in a few minutes, will be my review and reading of that book.

These words don’t exist in darkness – thank you for offering them light. 

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Practicing Lucidity

One of the assignments for the Catholic and Orthodox Christianity Module at the Chaplaincy Institute, where I’m still a seminarian, was to practice one of the Christian forms of prayer. I opted for Father Thomas Keating’s Centering Prayer with a sacred word. One selects a word as symbol for consenting to Divine presence and action within, then brings it into sitting in silence. I invoked the word repeatedly over the course of a week. Below is the text that emerged, interspersed with photographs I took while I was in Rome one year earlier.

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Lucidity

I am here in the sounding dark. I am the presence and the void. I am the flame and the velvet black. I lead you into form and offer you the gift of formlessness. I am close as the embers in your chest and vast as the fires of the night sky.

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I anchor this moment, I make it a ruby woven into your robes, I mark it on the body of your life. You sit and call and your wings open from your shoulders and your crown wears its gold and your body hums and you will be here whenever you desire, beyond the fleeting cruelty of time. You call this moment companion, and name it thus: the mountain towering above you, holding you in its embrace of snow; the fire murmurs and tells stories to your blood; your love beside you, sharing your table and bed and going out with you into the swirling white. You are here in love, now and evermore.
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You ask to be the vessel and so you are. From deck to mast strung with golden chains, you ply the night seas, luminous. Your bow stirs moonlight, your breath fills the sails. You are honored and captain. Angels alight on the deck, they wear the garland roses you bestow. Your word sends a wave of intention. The lion head emerges from your chest and the billion stars remind you, you are no small thing.

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Thank you for dipping my wings in gold. Thank you for placing the crown on my head, that I may bow to serve.

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Be with the man blessed with such pain. He sits in the gravel edge of his voice, he wears thunderheads of bitter mistake and self-hatred but today he’ll speak to you of angels and when you lay hands upon his furrowed brow he’ll soften into the sunlight of his smile. His pain is yours and yours, his. You are each portal to the other.
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This is my home, the water moving in air, the spill of oak hills down toward frigid sea. I know what’s out there, beneath the blanket of grey. I’ve walked here for a thousand lives.

I’m on fire with my life. I’m the wheel in my chest, luminescent spokes spinning off sparks.

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I remember the rain that bent the leaves of grass as it bent the hairs of my head. I remember feeling it swallowed by the open ground. I remember the loamy smell, the wet rock, the streaks of it down my chest. I remember the sound of it on leaves pulling me from my bed, to stand under a falling sky with mouth open to drink. I stripped and ran wild with it through scrub and oak. I floated on the lake, droplets like notes of music all around me, lightning on the ring of mountains. I remember it all. What a wonderful time I’ve had here, experiencing rain.

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You dwell in all the forms of your dreams, you are actor, scene, and Creator Director. As within, so without. How could it be otherwise?

In-between combustions a crow calls to a child and the child answers in joy. Coffee steams in ceramic curves, scones crumble, heels click on concrete. I’m in love with the world.

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I watch the moon rise into mystery, I listen for the Earth dreaming of redwoods. I pour out an offering of wine and turn to the darkened hills. My heart sings with gratitude for the climbing trail.

 

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