Anne Whitehouse, Meteor Shower. 2016. Loveland, OH: Dos Madres Press. 86 pgs.
$17.00. ISBN: 978-1-939929-60-0
is a striking meditation on the passages of time and its connection with
creativity. The book is broken down into six distinct sections, and each seems
to entail an expansion or a broadening arc of concern and insight. In Section
I, “A Girl Who Fell in Love with an Island,” the reader moves through moments
trapped in time. I was drawn in by two
poems in particular here. “Fires of Youth” beautifully captures the essence of
the section: “And when the raising of our children is over,/ and they set out
on their own lives,/ we are aware of life passed as if in a dream--/our
mortality, our lost vitality.” There is a longing to return to still life
moments of the past, such as giving away dresses, filing away unreachable vacation
scenes and seeing yourself as a ghost at age 27. “One-Way Session” aptly captures a moment of
transition. It’s obvious there has been
the death of a trusted marriage therapist in the opening stanza. The speaker
senses: “From deep within/ I feel the release from/ that old way of being.”
Whitehouse moves the reader into a bleaker journey at this point. We sense a
break here coming, a movement into a difficult place of transition.
“The Eye That Cries” focuses on
mourning. It is a darker section of the
collection, almost as if the poet is leading us downward, in order to move us
upward as she proceeds. Poems here examine armed conflicts, suicides, and
elegies. Some of the lines are beautiful and haunting. In “Mother of Suicides,”
concerning mothers dealing with the deaths of children, the speaker seems to
than the dread were the discoveries.
nightmares have never gone away:
What do you want from me?
You were the one who left—
Why won’t you let me go?
Whatever I did that was wrong,
I’m still paying for it.
The lines are painful, and like poems
such as “LOL,” they seem consumed with dread.
The image of the lost marriage returns in “My Last Spring in My House
and Garden.” The speaker recollects a
house she lived in for 35 years. The imagery is powerful and rooted. If she
could, she “…would slip/ into the soil like a buried seed.” The poem plays on
images of burial and uprooting. The speaker is blown far away from her home;
her life is split by her broken marriage “…not cleanly,/ but with spikes and
jagged edges.” It is poem of pain with the final image of the roots watered by
tears, evoking the deep sadness of lost love.
In Section III “Moving,” the reader
notices a subtle shift. Whitehouse seems to acknowledge loss, but there seems
to be acceptance, a conscious step away from images of paralysis and drift.
“Contraries” captures this well. It is a poem about recollecting a jellyfish’s
sting. The speaker’s sister never ventures back into the ocean after the
incident. The speaker insists on moving forward:
imagine—not ever going under,
in air and not in water,
feeling the wonder
an alien element all around.
This captures a central idea in the
grouping. There’s an acknowledgement of pain, but there’s a building on it, a
movement forward. Two lines from “One Step Ahead” capture the sentiment as well:
“…trying to dodge the traps ahead/ while fleeing the terrors behind.” The final
poem of the section, “Delete, Delete,” portrays the everyday deletion of emails
as a metaphor for the choices of things we cut and avoid, in order to live more
fully in the present.
In Sections IV and V, (The Mask and Grout
Pond, respectively), I sense a shift into an almost-Zen appreciation of the
present moment. There seems to be more
balance in these poems. They appear more whimsical and less occupied with the
darkness of the past. For example, in “Less Impact,” we see this closing
There is a clear echo of the imagery of
Richard Wilbur’s poem, “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” and yet
Whitehouse’s poem pushes readers into the air, into dissolution. The poems of “Grout Pond” continue to evoke
the present moment in shadows, dust motes, light and insects. They lead the
reader carefully into the final section of the collection, “Life’s Continuous
The sixth and final section of Meteor Shower contains some real gems,
which aptly close the arc of the book. “Calligraphies” and “Meteor Shower” are
two fine examples to note here. “Calligraphies” was awarded the 2016 Songs of Eretz poetry prize. It is a
persona poem about the speaker’s father collecting calligraphy in Quanzhou.
When revolution comes he buries and finally burns his collection. But he
continues to write calligraphy in the puddles on the ground. The poem contains
meditations on the infinite and the elusive power of language and art. Much of
it can be lost or remain invisible to the world. “Some mysteries are meant to
be discovered,/some are meant to remain heaven’s secrets.” The poem traces a
historical moment of conflict, but it shows the transcendent power to achieve
immortality. In “Meteor Shower,” Whitehouse closes the collection with creating
a simple, yet beautiful image of connection. “We,” perhaps the speaker and
reader together, stare up at the stars from a blanket. It’s a simple act,
filled with wonder, for as we look up at the dark, starry unknown, we seem to
better understand our selves and our purposes.
every instant we are
we have been and will be,
forebears who live on in us
remember, we resemble.
“Meteor Shower” closes with a unique
insight into the art of writing itself. “The deed was minimal, the words
exact,/ and I needed a lifetime to say them.” It’s a beautiful capturing of the
poet’s mission to observe and record minutely from a particular space in time,
with eyes ever upward on the infinite beyond our reach.
Meteor Shower is
truly a stunning and moving collection of poetry. The shifts from section to
section show a beautiful trajectory, down into memory and loss, back into
engagement with the present, and finally a movement upward towards transcendence
and infinity. The poems grapple, often intensely with loss and dislocation, and
yet there is a sense of purpose to the pain. As one line in “Creativity”
captures well about the collection as a whole: “An accident will lead you to
creation.” Yes, indeed, it does.
- Ian S. Maloney is Professor of English
at St. Francis College, where he directs the St. Francis College Literary
Abandon me not,
world, do not leave, naïve swallow… Omer’s
death is more than two months old, but these verses by Miljkovic1 still
drum in my head, and have been since the day that brief message arrived in
November of last year (only three days before his final exit) that nothing more
could be done. We had known each other for only four years, but our friendship
was honest and deep, like a forty-year-old well. When, from time to time, I
toss a memory pebble into it, a whisper of a distant water emerges. That is how
I still communicate with Omer Hadziselimovic. I told him in recent days that I
can’t come to terms with the void he birthed, that his absence from life is
unexcused--and his death utterly unfounded.
We found each other
late in life, under strange circumstances, and, like in that unforgettable
Eugenio Montale poem, I can say that even
so it has been short, our long journey, I still went, arm in arm with Omer,
down a million stairs of his
translator’s workshop. He led me into secret chambers, unlocked treasure
trunks, entrusted me with valuable
documents, taught me to love at least five American poets of whom I only knew before, but to whose poetry I
am now addicted. Even my own poems are more recognizable to me today because of
Omer; by translating them into English, he sharpened the farsighted focus on
that one pair of my glasses:
Dedicated to Omer
as we are soft when it comes to the faults
own children, I could not step back from
poems and view them with objective eyes.
not capable of reading them as someone
until the time when, at a resting-place for
my path crossed with Fr. Omer's.
Omer sat in a darkened room going through
arrived mail. Now and then, coughing
putting down his monocle, he'd startle the flame
candle. He'd bring my letters to his ear
listen to them for a long time before copying
to the reserve language and arranging
in a shoebox. Today I got the package
sorting the mail that has just arrived.
bringing my poems to my ear and listening
them for the first time as someone else.
He was born in
1946, and lived in Sarajevo until 1994. Majored in English and German, got his
Master’s degree, then his doctorate, taught at the Faculty of Philosophy at the
University of Sarajevo, and along the way was promoted to the top academic
ranks. It was as if he didn’t remember any of it! His academic interests centered around
English and American history and American literature. I never asked questions!
He lived through the two most difficult years of the Sarajevo siege. Never
talked much about it! From 1994 on he lived in the United States, taught at Loyola
University in Chicago, participated in a number of literary projects, wrote,
translated, received several recognitions, awards… Never boasted! With Marko
Vesovic, the best contemporary living expert on how to read poetry, translated to and from English. Totally opposite personalities,
yet top notch translations… I, too, remember exchanging up to twenty messages
with Fr. Omer before settling upon the perfect English words while translating
some tough verses of mine. I don’t know how he had the patience, or how he
could even put up with an English language ignoramus like me.
Plans are made to
fail, and when I peer into my sehara2filled with memories of Omer, the first
thing I see is what’s missing: a planned reunion on Hvar in the summer of 2016,
strolls along the plowed sea, hikes to the old tavern in the abandoned village of
Humac … His Dina and Belma, so far away, whom he misses all the time, his Esma,
always at his side, never whimpering. Who will translate this poetry for us now? Then again, haven’t we already translated
everything, is there even anything left to say?
I have all the words, in all their nuances,
but there is nothing to speak anymore.
It's clear I'm in pitch darkness, the only
light - the eyes of keyholes. It's unclear
which side the precipices are on.
I have all the keys, I keep them in coded
safes. But I find it harder and harder to love:
there is no one to open them to anymore.
Omer has been dead
for more than two months now, and I don’t know if his ashes have been given to
the winds to scatter selflessly across continents. I haven’t asked! When you
are dust in one place, you are dust everywhere. That way you’re returning home.
Perhaps by the same road, carrying the same beauty and the same dangers so they
can surprise you in an unfamiliar place.
Judging by the
anachronistic moral principles he followed, Omer Hadziselimovic wasn’t really of
this world. Rather, I would say that he belonged to another long-extinct human
species, but somehow, like in a bad movie, accidentally slipped into the
future. Now everything is in its right place again, and I believe that someone
will soon stumble upon Omer’s stećak3 while wandering
through some Bosnian Bogomil4 necropolis. And that, on that ancient
stone, one will still be able to glimpse the fitting epitaph: He never said MINE or YOURS, never that icy
1 Branko Miljković, a post-World War
Serbian poet who ended his own life aged twenty-seven.
2 Sehara, an artfully
adorned box or trunk used for keeping the most precious belongings.
3 Stećak, medieval
tombstones in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its neighboring countries.
4 Bogomils, members
of the medieval Bosnian church, followers of the religious and political
movement that originated in the tenth century as a response to the social
stratification and as opposition to the state and church authorities.
5 Lightly modified verse of
Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis
by Esma Hadziselimovic (Milorad Pejic’s poems translated by Omer
NE NAPUŠTAJ ME SVIJETE!
Hadžiselimović 1946-2016, Sjećanje)
Ne napuštaj me
svete, ne idi naivna lasto… Omerova smrt stara je već više
od dva mjeseca ali mi ovi Miljkovićevi stihovi jednako bubnjaju u glavi sve od
onog trenutka kad mi je u novembru prošle godina (samo tri dana prije njegovog
definitivnog odlaska) stigla ona kratka poruka da se više ništa za njega ne
može učiniti. Poznavali smo se svega četiri godine ali bilo je iskreno i duboko
naše prijateljstvo kao bunar od četrdeset godina. Iz njega se javi šapat daleke
vode kad ubacim ponekad kamičak sjećanja. Tako još uvijek komuniciram sa
Omerom Hadžiselimovićem. Rekao sam mu ovih dana da ne mogu da se pomirim sa
prazninom koju je porodio i da je njegovo odsustvo iz života naprosto neopravdano
i njegova smrt potpuno neosnovana.
Našli smo se pokasno
u životu, pod sticajem čudnih okolnosti, i kao u onoj jednoj nezaboravnoj pjesmi
Eugenia Montalea mogu reći da bilo je kratko naše dugo putovanje ali stigao
sam ipak da, zajedno s Omerom, siđem makar niz milion stepenica njegove
prevodilačke radionice. Uveo me u tajne odaje, otključao blaga, povjerio mi na
čuvanje vrijednosne papire, naučio me da volim najmanje pet američkih
pjesnika o kojima sam do tada samo znao a danas sam njihove poezije
ovisnik. Danas su mi i moje vlastite pjesme prepoznatljivije jer mi je Omer,
prevodeći ih na engleski, izoštrio dioptriju na onom jednom paru naočala za
isti način na koji smo bolećivi spram mana
djece, nisam se mogao odmaći od
pjesama i sagledati ih očima objektivnim.
ih mogao čitati kao nečije druge
dok mi se jednom, na odmorištu diližansi,
ne ukrstiše sa putevima Fra Omerovim.
Omer je sjedio u zamračenoj sobi i prebirao
poštu. Ponekad bi kašljem ili ispuštanjem
plamen na svijeći. Prinosio je
i dugo slušao moja pisma prije no što bi ih
na rezervni jezik i slagao u kutiju
cipele. Danas sam dobio paket i razvrstavam
poštu. Prinosim uhu i slušam po prvi put
pjesme kao neko drugi.
Rodiose 1946. iživiouSarajevusvedo 1994. Studiraoanglistikuigermanistiku, magistrirao, doktorirao, radionaFilozofskomfakultetu, dobiosvauniverzitetskazvanja. Kao da ih se nije sjećao! Bavio se pretežno engleskom i američkom historijom i
američkom književnošću. Nisam ga
zapitkivao! Izdržao dvije najteže godine opsade Sarajeva. Malo je otomepričao! Od 1994 živio u USA, radio kao profesor na Univerzitetu Loyola u Čikagu,
učestvovao u mnogim književnim projektima, pisao, prevodio, dobio mnoga
priznanja, nagrade... Nije se nikad hvalio! Sa Markom Vešovićem, za čitanje poezije najvećim živim ekspertom
našeg vremena, prevodio je na engleski i sa engleskog. Dva različita
temperamenta, vrhunski prevodi... Znao sam i sam sa Fra-Omerom razmijeniti i po
dvadesetak poruka prije nego bismo pronašli pravi engleski izraz za poneku
tešku riječ pri prevođenju mojih stihova. Ne znam kako je imao živce, ne znam
kako me je, ovako nepismenog za engleski, uopšte trpio.
Planovi su da propadaju i kad zavirim u seharu uspomena na Omera vidim prvo
ono što mi u njoj nedostaje: jedan dogovoreni susret na Hvaru ljeta 2016, šetnje
kraj uzoranog mora, izlet do konobe u napuštenom selu Humac... Njegova Dina i
Belma koje su daleko i koje mu stalno nedostaju, njegova Esma koja je stalno uz
njega a ne kmeči. Ko će nam sada tu
poeziju prevoditi na engleski? Ali zar nismo već sve preveli, zar je potrebno
da se više bilo šta govori?
imam, u svim nijansama,
više šta da se govori.
Jasno je da
sam u mrklom mraku,
svjetlost – oči ključaonica.
s koje strane su ponori.
ključeve, čuvam ih pod
kasama. Samo sve teže
više kome da se otvori.
Omerova smrt stara je više od dva mjesaca i ne znam još da li je njegov prah
predan vjetru da ga nesebično rasprši po kontinentima. Nisam pitao! Jer
svejedno je. Kad si prah na jednom mjestu – prah si svagdje. Na taj način
vraćaš se kući. Možda istim putem, noseći sa sobom istu ljepotu i iste
opasnosti da te u nepoznatu kraju iznenađuju.
Sudeći prema anahronosti moralnih principa koje je slijedio, Omer Hadžiselimović zapravo nije ni bio od ovog svijeta. Prije bih rekao da
je pripadao jednoj drugoj, odavno izumrloj ljudskoj vrsti ali je nekim
slučajem, kao u lošem filmu, upao u budućnost. Sada je opet sve na svom mjestu
i vjerujem da će neko uskoro nabasati na Omerov stećak tumarajući po nekoj od nekropola bosanskih Bogumila. I da će
se na tom davnom kamenu još uvijek moći razabrati urezan epitaf koji savršeno
pristaje: Nikada nije rekao MOJE ili TVOJE, nikad tu ledenu riječ*.
* Neznatno modifikovan stih grčkog
pjesnika Kostantinosa Kavafisa
All Work - Copyright 2017 by Milorad Pejic - All Rights Reserved
Once upon a time, there was a crazy,
homeless man with a dirty beard and a cardboard sign which read, "The End
Is Near Here." His name was Marty.
Marty considered himself a bit of a
political pundit, but no one paid much attention to him.
However, during the election year with its
talk of civil cacophony, the Democrats and the Republicans began insisting in
public proclamations that freedom was, in fact, a reality, and they sent
television reporters to find the stories of real Americans.
of them found Marty.
trying to tell the stories of real freedom in America," the reporter said.
"Won't you tell us yours?"
He coughed to clear his throat. He looked into the
camera. Then, quietly, and without undue exaggeration, he told the parable of
They hung the men naked like sausages from
poles with ropes tied to their arms and legs, their heads all pointing down
toward the dusty soil, and their backs curled against the tension of the ropes.
They always killed three at a time under the little tent-bungalow set up in the
park so everyone could watch.
At first, the executions were barbarous.
Colonel Veritilious, the Colonel, used a machete to hack open a kidney or to cut
off a head. Sometimes a body pulled apart at the sudden release of stress, and
as body parts fell toward the ground, blood splattered on the observers.
On one occasion in the sweltering evening
of a sun-soaked July, he missed the kidney and he cut into the spine of the
victim, and the victim claimed to feel nothing. This discovery eventually gave
the Colonel the ability to allow men to die without pain. Soon, families of
those condemned began to bring the Colonel bribes so that he would utilize his
secrets and kill their loved one with the painless death.
Originally, these killings were intended
merely to subdue the citizens, to assure their obedience, and, after a time,
they became ritual, regarded with a certain amount of sacred mystery. The
Colonel even added a well dressed young man as an assistant who carried the
machete like a relic in a hardwood sheath wrapped with braided twine made from
the string of salt water palm leaves.
The machete was kept so sharp that its
slightest touch drew blood.
The Colonel walked behind those hanging
from the poles. He would pull the long knife from its sheath. He would slice
open the back at the position of the kidney. And then he would administer a
slice at the spine, one location, near the number four Lumbar, for a painless,
numb, death, another location, near the number three Cervical, for an
excruciating, prolonged one.
The painfulness of this second cut was said
to be greater than broken bones, burned skin, and the sting of swarming ants
combined. Therefore, the Colonel became wealthy from the bribes of families
wishing to protect their loved ones from anguish and torment.
Eventually, the Colonel became so skillful
that he could remove the machete from its wooden sheath soundlessly, and the
knife grew so sharp it could open a human body with no more sound than that of
a moth drying its wings.
For this reason silence was imposed during
Finally, the Colonel became so adept at
killing that he could perform this task without even the need for the machete.
At his mere gesture, kidneys burst open and spines split. If ever a victim
displeased the Colonel, or if the family could not afford his rather expensive
fee, he simply touched the wretched victim at the base of the neck which
brought on the death of agony.
For a long time the executions were
accomplished without incident until it was the turn of a simple-minded shoe
cobbler to die. This one claimed that the Colonel found him distasteful because
of his poverty, and he claimed that in spite of the fact that his family had
paid half the fee for a painless death, all they could afford, the Colonel was
nevertheless about to administer the death of agony.
His cries grew louder and louder, breaking
the sacred law of silence, and the Colonel, in retribution, did touch the base
of his neck, but slightly off-center, so that the cobbler screamed in agony for
days. His moans and anguish echoed off the hills and reverberated within the
hollows of trees so that even animals trembled in torment.
Finally, on the third day, he died.
This brought a new phenomenon – death by
So agonizing was the dying of the young
man, so horrible his cries of affliction, so precisely were his screams encoded
into the minds of the villagers that now, when the Colonel sends his soldiers
to escort the victims to the ropes, the loved ones merely pay the fee to the
agents, and the victim voluntarily dies at home within the hour.
When Marty finished the parable, both the
interviewer and the photographer, shocked by the tale, stood speechless, while
the cameraman, somewhat mesmerized, continued to hold the record button.
Marty shrugged, picked up his sign, and
smiled into the still running camera.
Eventually, the reporter rushed the
unedited copy to leaders of both the Democratic and the Republican parties. In
a rare gesture of authentic bi-partisanship, they ordered Marty jailed.
The reporter led the agents to Marty's
homeless home, and they took him to a prison where they tortured him without
mercy. They stretched him out on the pain-inducing table allowing the machine
to inflict its precise afflictions.
As Marty twisted in agony, he cried out in
anguish and in torment.
Yet, those outside who heard the cries
could not remember the meaning of the sounds.