By Lisa Dordal
Black Lawrence Press, 2018
74 pages. $15.95 (Paperback)
Mosaic of the Dark, the title of Lisa Dordal’s debut poetry collection, is lifted from the final couplet of the final poem. It is the “thousands and thousands of eyes” of houseflies, made holy through poetic meditation, that “make a mosaic of the dark” in this final image of illumination (70). This is a dark in which the speaker’s mother “won’t stay dead, her eyes/ fixing into mine like she knows//I’m her best chance” (69-70). But even the darkness shimmers with possibility, as the daughter of these poems emancipates herself into a life her mother would not allow herself to imagine (“It wasn’t an option, you said” (11)). This discovery of luminosity is sharp-edged, radiating with queer defiance.
As a whole, the collection narrates the poet’s movement into hard light, towards a mystical divine not structured by patriarchy. At first, the life of the speaker is not unlike the lives of houseflies, “an array of endless regurgitations” not yet transformed by poetry and the light of self-recognition (69). If we follow the houseflies’ backward flow to the book’s beginning, we arrive at a “Commemoration,” in which the speaker is a girl of twelve playing Mary “in a community Christmas pageant.” She recalls:
Everyone said I made a great Mary.
That I did a great job being
the one God descended upon. No,
not descended upon. Entered.
That I did a great job being the one
God entered. And who
afterwards called it holy. (3)
The second section of the poem entitled “Christmas Pageant Revisited” commemorates the regurgitated scene in the words of a “visiting poet,” a man who dictates to the speaker:
… Her desire for him is
what this poem is about. This much is clear:
She desires him. The girl riding a donkey
desires him, the boy, the dramatic center. (3)
The symbolic violation of the first section, at which the speaker thrills, is made concrete and dull here, a negation of the speaker’s actual desires. Through this flash of ironic distancing we recognize a poet who refuses to be de-centered, to be banished to the margins of her own story.
The speaker’s desires, queer and luminescent, illuminate the dark corners of the compulsory heteronormative script. In a section of the book titled “Matrimonies,” we witness several scenes of playacting at straightness. In the poem “Sixth Grade,” it begins
Under a warm June sun during the break
between Social Studies and Language Arts,
they married us off. Our bodies surrounded
on the cracked pavement of our schoolyard
by friends, classmates, then
by something larger, sovereign and invisible. (21)
It is the queerness of the speaker and her male friend — as perceived in the “clang of missed baskets — // other kids shooting hoops” (22) — that their classmates seek to discipline during recess, their straying perceived as harmful to the harmony of the group. In poem after poem, Dordal brilliantly hones in on the impersonal forces (often transmitted through subconscious gestures, as in the example above) that seek to structure our intimate lives.
No wonder the adult speaker of another poem laments,
I know what it’s like not to be seen;
what it’s like to be smoothed over by discourse;
to have the bumpy parts gone,
your own rich textures of being
dulled into round slivers of yearning,
a dark, holy heaviness lost … (41)
Yet, it is in the subtle tapestries of sound weaved throughout the collection that the poet’s “rich textures of being” and “dark, holy heaviness” radiate. Dordal’s lines are musically precise, her use of syntax varied and propulsive.
The book’s seven sections come together like a mosaic, not so much interchangeable as interlocking — constructed of a stony resolve, resolved into heat and moisture, breath and kisses. In “The Lies that Save Us” the speaker and her beloved recognize
… the power of things unseen:
atoms, quarks, and auras,
and all the love that lies between.
Kissing energy, we call it. (50)
As readers, it is this energy that we are charged with as well, arriving at what seemed like an end, only to return to a beginning, but now with all our “thousands and thousands of eyes” glowing in the dark.
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