Review: Stealing Mercury

miniBook Expo for Bloggers ReviewStealing Mercury by Lori Cayer [J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing]
Reviewed by Christine Thorpe

Do You Notice The Blue of Sky

The two epigraphs to this selection from Lori Cayer‘s book of poetry Stealing Mercury read:

A hundred thousand impression
from the spirit
are wanting to come through here.
                            I feel stunned
in this abundance, crushed and dead.

                                             Rumi

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take over and over
for all of us? Call it

Whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter fire.

                                        Mary Oliver

Upon reading these lines, I am prepared to plummet into difficult poems with divergent themes but I am hoping there will be an optimistic undertone, a looking on the bright side of things as well. It is, of course an entirely heroic gesture for a poet whose project is the dissection of the body, family and relationships to claim possession of words from the likes of Rumi and Oliver yet I am inspired to read on. I flip the book over and read on the back cover that her poems are about "peeling back the layers of family life until we can see the ‘glistening knot of bone’  beneath." Oh no, on second thought I don’t know if I am prepared to read further.

Cayer’s Stealing Mercury ends with "The Animals That
Inhabit Him" – "it’s true I’ve gone deaf these many weeks/ temporary,
ear-infected solitary/ confinement/ a near total blotting out of sound." The last lines read: "from
what source a message/he will hear?/ he writes himself into the margin
of his story/ whatever this is- / undertow or forced match/ his
monologue of silence/ how can I give him anything?" So readers who gloss her work as merely "surgical" are urged on the way in and out to take another look.

Yet the struggle begins for me with the poems in the opening
section of the book because the promise that I have been given is
difficult to assimilate into poems with titles that read like medical
pamphlets –
"Raising a Child with Hemophilia," "Bleeder," "Amateur’s Guide to Agoraphobia,"
and the intimate revelations speak of autobiographical interpretation
(as they should); however, I see that yoking the collection solely to
blood and gore is implausible.

Yes, in most cases, I assume that her poems are autobiographical
and in others quasi-autobiographical. There are children, a father, a
mother, sisters, lovers and friends with the appearance of names only
sparsely represented (Tammy). What appears beyond the open wounds is
beauty and play. "When his tangerine heart/ is eleven/ he watches them
cut open/ a woman on the Learning Channel/ belly of the blade sinking a
thick/ red hole big enough/ for two hands to slip in/ pull out a
glistening blue turkey."

It would have been easy to stop after the first section "Miscellaneous Anatomy." To
not continue. But there is a delicate play of words happening within
the poems and her use of color pulls me onward. (I just hoped it
wouldn’t pull me back into surgery again.) In the poem
"Line of Questioning" her words read: "tell me about yourself, how colour speaks/ itself to you, do you notice the blue/ of the sky when it leans over you" I want to find more of the bright side of the collection.

And I think I found it in a fictional element within the poem "Mother Road." Cayer strands together book titles and creates a light piece: "you
can get there from here/ walking through walls, writing/ down the
bones/ the new intelligence/ a mother’s journal breaking the code/
getting to yes, the city of yes/ searching the skies/ [for] near
occasions of grace." Any poet with Cayer’s sense of play while
assembling a collection will be aware of the moments of lightness and
darkness that she strikes.

"A hundred thousand impressions…" this promise rings true. But
I’m not sure if flow would describe the connection between the poems in
this collection; it’s more like surprise. Perhaps the joins are
invisible, a poet rushing to embrace the various difficult subjects
cannot spend too long on one subject because it may not have the urgent
emotional quality that difficult subjects require. As she writes in
"Death’s Early Colours Are All We Know of Spring," "running behind time, I pass them by."

There is a breathlessness to incorporate every subject but these
subjects are handled deftly not with marathon lung/word exhaustion. She
controls pauses and breaks beautifully. She hangs verbs at the ends of
lines to maintain the momentum; full stops come to encircle stanzas and
invite re-entry into the work. Single lines accumulate throughout,
building architecture for the reader to hang onto.

Cayer is most potent when she isn’t trying too hard. In the poem "In the Bush with Him" she enacts the feeling of family:

he took us out
a stiff-legged, overdressed trail of ducklings
ice fishing all day –
all flat white brittle day –
the four of us standing around the long hole
augered down
through the middle of perilous nothing
keep moving, he’s say, jump around and you’ll warm up
I don’t recall the fish

By exploring what it is to be human and to be locked within the
body Cayer arrives at places where anxiety and worry overwhelm. She
explores in
"Amateur’s Guide to Agoraphobia": "dysphoria or morning/ their dance paralyzed by light."
She describes human isolation and I am wondering if she is still
searching for the brighter side. Yet, in attempting she reveals a world
of balance and beauty, a world where colors produce emotions and
vice-versa. I can’t wait to read her next collection.

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