Odd. Even as you first hold it up — six & a half inches by six & a half inches. This pliable little square, under fifty pages in length, exudes white space. Page seven proclaims, This earth is a lonely fit. That’s it. Nothing more. However, this small tome does announce its intention: to ruin the rumor that the master’s dead. And yes, it succeeds.
It chooses not to be aubade or elegy for Lucie Brock-Broido but a concise yet intimate series of miniature homages. It projects an unrelenting tone of frolic or fete: becomes a place where geese walk single file to soften the wind as the poet notices the brilliant grass and calls a few blades by their given names. Would that all elegies were this light!
The first section attains a haiku-esque brevity. The book’s cover – a two-tone mask — elicits a poignant, familiar image: a reproduction of Keats’ death mask – immortal in its mortality. Cleary opens with soothing auditory images: I’ve listened for you in a screen door chain chattering against its inner window or the shift of dishes in their rack.
I searched for derivatives, parallels or comparisons but can liken this book (on occasion) to only one other oddment: Neruda’s The Book of Questions. Did her hair smell of rose milk or of mint? Or did you see her past the stretch of scent? It was also gratifying to muse along with this inquiry: How can we say whose rain it is?
In “Life Mask” Cleary’s metaphors startle as she declaims: You pose as a temporary walrus breathing through straws, this image describes Brock-Broido’s early attempts to cope with her illness. Throughout her grieving Cleary is visited, often awakened by night visions of John Keats. In one of her later poems she initiates a return visit to Keats which remains oddly gratifying.
Cleary’s humor persists, as section four is titled “Stories of Your Death,” mirroring
Twain’s famous line, The stories of your death have been greatly exaggerated.
References to a picture book (published by Knopf) about her mute cat Nicholas, are
appreciated as Brock-Broido chants I love you, Nicholas. These tender details are
essential to this character sketch.
One amusing line entertains the notion that Brock-Broido just might have survived and
lives now in another state and commutes to her tomb – an apt rendition of the denial
so characteristic of the grief process. She also acknowledges kind lions and bare-
faced beasts caged in by their fictions with no air of superiority.
In “Moon Goddess Takes Leave of Sky” she mocks Keats’ negative capability. Playfully
proclaiming desire not to be irritable but more like a decorative rug, red key or a ghost
pumpkin, in a time so yestered that horses were three-toed dogs. Good fun!
She finally forgives, the gossips, like me who want a stricken deer to lift itself from the
road, and by that highway’s ribbon of trees, there are no headlights. Just skyglow as
that doe roots her hooves into less terrible beauty. Sublime.
Do yourself a favor. Locate, then read this book, as Eileen Cleary celebrates
Brock–Broido’s humanity with the ease of an afternoon tea and shares her awareness
that the sky pours flowers through the night.
Sally Naylor, Reviewer