BOOK REVIEW
 



Marsh Hawk Press
85  pages
$15 paperback



ISBN: 978-0-9846353-1-3


Cover and author photos: Angus Wright
Cover design: Claudia Carlson

2011

 
 

Mary Mackey’s “Sugar Zone” offers us "the land of sugar and bad dreams," terra do açúcar e maus sonhos. And, at first, the reader might assume this land Brazil, for many of these poems are set in that country which Mary Mackey frequently visits. But, don't be mistaken. These poems travel beyond South America to a region south of the mind's equator, the subconscious. As a result, the sugar provided in these pages is not a product that sweetens but rather one that causes the body and mind to function on its edge, over stimulated, experiencing violence, love, fear and beauty uniquely mixed. These are mature poems, and therein lies the depth, the intrigue and the beauty of this collection.

Mackey's poem, "Roadkill," for example, provides us with an image, not of an animal, but a dismembered human being. Masterfully, the poem is both figurative and literal.

Roadkill

  I avert my eyes from the tortured metal
and burned plastic of your
life

at the end    a single
white foot, bare     another in a red
sock

the indignity
the rotten joke     of death 


Some of these poems are starkly honest. Real. Conflicting. They serve up death and life, suffering and joy all at once.  For instance, "Cali" presents a picture of  lovers, escaping from machinegun fire, crawling on the floor to take refuge in a shower.

  we rolled to the floor     crawled
to the bathroom     took refuge
in the shower     turned on the water
and held each other laughing
as if being together made us immortal


Other poems in the collection are surreal.  For example, a woman named Solange, who appears to be a psychological manifestation of freedom, surfaces in several poems.  At the beginning of the book the narrator asks why Solange left and where she has gone. The ultimate phrase in the last poem of the collection, "How we lost Solange," answers the question:

  in the note we found
tied to the thumb of your hammock
you told us we would
never find you
you wrote that you had taken
a jaguar for a lover
sifted your flesh
into the great oxbow lakes
where it rains black mud
cast off the flowered
husk of your body
and become a white orchid
floating on dark water.    


Certain lines appear in more than one poem. For instance, near the beginning of the collection, in a poem titled “Dreaming of the Bullet-Proof Cars of Maceio" reference is made to the land of sugar and bad dreams.

  This is the terra do acucar e maus sonhos
the land of sugar and bad dreams
infinite darkness without borders
where birds passing overhead
smell like biscoitos molhodos/wet crackers
sour milk and the sweat of sex
aqui/here in the night room    doorknobs turn
your hands    mirrors reflect receding galaxies
and the clown who lies on his back beside you
twitching and suffering    is your soul

In Part III, most of these words are repeated in another poem titled, "This is the Land of Bad Dreams."  Notice how the figure of the clown has changed in the last line. Notice, too, that Portuguese is not used in this version.

  This is the Land of bad dreams
where birds passing overhead
smell like wet crackers and blood
sour milk and the sweat of sex
the night room   where doorknobs
turn your hands    and mirrors reflect
the clown that lies on his back
beside you    twitching   suffering
reincarnated as a castrated fool

 

Poems in this collection frequently contain common Portuguese words and phrases, contributing a foreignness, a wildness, a sense of mystery to the poems, adding to their subconscious flavor. But the poems are written to function without consideration of the Portuguese words if a reader wishes to gloss over them.

Interestingly, some of the poems that don't use Portuguese, such as "This is the Land of Bad Dreams," signal a land of nightmares closer to home, a land of bad dreams from childhood where monsters lurk in closets and hide under the bed. Fears wait behind a door, the knob of which is turning.

This book is rich in symbolism.  It is chock full of poetry at its best. Take up this collection and travel to the Sugar Zone, a land that resides south of the human equator, deep in the mind of the reader.

Reviewed by Mary Ann Sullivan
    January 2013