“Always a Blue House” Lisa Rizzo (Saddle Road Press) – poetry review

Lisa Rizzo Always a Blue House poetry bookLisa Rizzo’s poems take in on travel, art and family relationships focusing on secrets, things not spoken about, unspoken rules and the impact these have on the people involved. In the poem “Blue Angel” (after the painting by Marc Chagall), which gives the collection its title:

“In a dream-swim under three crescent moons
a house is floating or sinking or settling
into sediment on the sea floor.
It is a blue house; it is always a blue house.

She is my angel and no one else’s.
I can keep her my secret or let her free
into the world. I don’t care whether
she has flown in the window or out.”

The angel isn’t important, but the knowledge the angel exists is. It’s the knowledge or secret that gives the narrator a sense of power, which enables her to let go of the smaller details – whether the house is floating or sinking, whether the angel is entering or leaving – because she can control whether or not she chooses to tell others about the angel. Control in the domestic sphere is picked up as a theme in “Washing Dishes” and the aftermath of an argument,

“A bird trapped in her cage,
approval was the worm
she craved. Not his halfhidden
glance as he turned away,
derision written in the curve of his lips.

But as she wiped that plate dry,
warm from its bath, porcelain
smooth, this time her hand
made the reply
she had never dared speak.”

Readers aren’t given any information as to what the argument was about, because it is irrelevant. What matters is the failure of communication. The husband’s contempt and the wife’s inability to speak her mind have set up a pattern that constricts the couple to dancing around the same argument again and again until one decides to break free. Constriction and boundaries is a theme picked up in “Interlopers” on a visit to the Serengeti (which the poem reminds readers is a Maasai word that translates into English as ‘endless plain’) where the narrator is watching wildebeest and zebra migrate,

“I think in borders,
human sealed
within such boundaries.

Thankful that, as yet,
no human fence guards
this animal migration.

I turn back.
They thunder on.”

Uncovering secrets can be problematic too. In “The Collector” the poet recalls finding a small newspaper article about a train hitting a car on railroad tracks and the miraculous survival of the car driver, who was the poet’s mother’s friend to whom she’d sold the wrecked car.

“An ambulance had already
taken her away,
but I always imagined her
inside the car
bleeding, unconscious.

And my mother,
she kept this warning
among valentines,
tissue-stuffed baby shoes,
an envelope cradling
my first cut curl.”

No one knows why the driver stopped on the railroad tracks, whether it was a deliberate act or some failure, such as running out of fuel, with the car. Whatever the current relationship between the poet’s mother and the car driver, it was significant enough for the mother to keep the newspaper clipping with other keepsakes, but hidden away and kept secret. It’s significant too that the poet images the driver parcelled inside the car and unable to speak. It’s a secret that exercises her imagination but she feels restrained from talking about it to her mother. More family secrets are revealed in “My Father’s Hands”,

“left behind by his mother when he was three
pressed against orphanage walls
curled around emptiness

never played with his own children
never stroked or cradled them
only knew how to work”

In “Star Coral” Lisa Rizzo explores the job of the poet,

“until this human
interloper came
wishing she were innocent
but greedy really
to take this treasure
far from where it belongs
turned it into flotsam
lying lightly in her palm.”

There’s a price to pay whether you keep things hidden and unspoken or uncover and reveal them. Lisa Rizzo’s poems are thought-provoking and compassionate. Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions from carefully drawn scenarios that probe at spaces we don’t always want to explore: secrets and things left unsaid.

“Always a Blue House” is available from https://www.amazon.com/Always-Blue-House-Lisa-Rizzo/dp/0996907440/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481167402&sr=8-1&keywords=always+a+blue+house from 10 December 2016.

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