Nectar by Lisa Bellamy (A Review by P. Jonas Bekker)

Encircle Press

24 pgs/$12.95

 

I staggered out of the theater after Waiting for Godot.
Jeez, I griped to Peter, That’s it? We’re all just wind and gristle?
Yep, he said after a minute, and I knew he was trying to remember
whether he’d stuck the parking ticket in his wallet or pocket.

I love it when a poet tells you what a poetry collection is all about in the first poem. In these four lines from the opening poem, ‘Monkey Spinning a Prayer Wheel’, Lisa Bellamy lays out a framework of what she’s concerning herself with in this chapbook called Nectar. The senselessness and mundanity of everything makes the protagonist call for her mother like a little girl:

 in my memory of chipping my tooth on the granite rock in our backyard,
and me wailing as my mother ran from her chaise lounge
where she’d been sunbathing and reading Leon Uris, her freckled arms
and the smell of her suntan oil—where is she? Where is she?

That is a powerful, if disconcerting, start to a book of poetry.

When the meaning of life – or rather the lack of one – is the subject matter, religious connotations are never far away. Bellamy uses elements from Christianity as well as the Buddhist traditions, but she always does this with irony, as if to say ‘religion is nice, but it’s not going to save you in the end’.

To illustrate this point, she sympathizes with Goliath:

 

Goliath

 

Although the lord did anoint
the shepherd boy for kingship
and glory, and far be it from me
to second-guess Him, my heart
goes out to Goliath, Canaanite head banger,
spear-carrier for the duration,
predictable as hummus, as his only girlfriend
once said in frustration—but a guy
who secretly fed crowds of hungry cats
mewling behind his tent,
unsure what he wanted to do
when he mustered out,
till one dawn he stood sleepily,
knee-deep in crab grass in the valley of Elah,
dutifully shouting at his adversary
on orders from his commanding officer,
sure that he—seven feet tall, bronze-armored,
each footstep an explosion in the grass,
a guy who bench-pressed 225 pounds,
recalcitrant cowlick in his mother’s favorite picture,
almost a short-timer now—
could easily handle a face-off
with a pipsqueak packing a sling shot.

Yes, ‘far be it from me to second-guess Him’, but to believe in Him – to believe we can be saved – that, for a person living in this day and age, is too much too ask. Cheerful irony is the only feasible coping strategy left.

It is impressive to see a poet illustrate the modern human condition by referring to a biblical story and giving us her take without detracting from it. It almost makes this two poems in one.

There is another important ingredient in Bellamy’s poetry. It is perhaps the most important ingredient of all poetry: love. Although there is mention of men  here and there – a ‘first husband’ and a ‘new husband’ even – the most important love in Nectar is between mother and child. In some of the poems, the protagonist is the struggling mother and sometimes she is the child. In ‘Howling Boy’, a flow-of-consciousness sort of piece reminiscent of beat poetry, these roles intersect:

The middle of my life
and my mother dead
two months before.
One in the car—or two,
if you count howling boy
huddled under my dashboard

The free, associative style works most of the time, but sometimes Bellamy rambles. In ‘To My Elastic Waist Pants’ she writes some lines that could have been cut in editing

Your generosity brings tears to my eyes,
as I sit on the lakeshore
lit in afternoon sun. I need breathing room,
not like when Germany needed
“breathing room” to invade Czechoslovakia—
that was insane—
but joyful breathing room, without the interference
you get from zipper-front slacks.

Towards the end of the collection, fear rears its head. Fear of death. In ‘The Human Realm’ it takes the aptly worded shape of ‘a spot on an X-ray and a doctor’s voice on the phone’.

In Nectar, Lisa Bellamy covers some pretty dark subject matter, but she tackles it with a sense of irony and humor that makes for delightful reading.

*

~P. Jonas Bekker is a writer and a poet from the Netherlands.~

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