Union! by Ish Klein
In her first collection of poetry, Ish Klein explores worlds both strange and recognizable, examines human experience, decries war, and extends love and compassion to all. This idea of reaching out, of connection and union, begins in the dedication of the book which is for the author's friends and for "anyone who needs what this is. This is yours."
Inclusion thematically reappears throughout the collection and is central to the poem "My Love Has Left Me I Have No Home," from which the author has taken the title of the book. In this poem, the speaker defines union as "the merge of love," an activity "the coupled are up to." Writing from the perspective of someone who has lost her love and therefore exists outside of union, the speaker concludes the poem:
Nothing is clear, here.
Hey you! You whoever you are.
Are you in on this?
Tell me. Tell me if you don't mind.
Or have a seat, have whatever you want.
I will watch. You won't even know I'm here.
The speaker is writing from a point of loneliness but has the desire to connect and generously offers anything "you" may want. She brings us all to this point and then quietly disappears into the background, so quietly we no longer to even know she is there. While the speaker claims to be writing outside of one type of union, the reader is reminded of the union that exists between an author and the reader of the author's text. We are meeting halfway.
The merging of lyric poetry and humor is another union that takes place in this collection. In "For You I Will Make Myself Useful," we again see the author's generosity as she offers help to the "you" reading the poem. Peppered with exclamations, the poem is exuberant and unexpected:
The sun is like an omen.
The moon, a variable drip.
My heart is like a tire fire.
You who read this are like a beautiful drug.
And I LOVE drugs!
It's the year of the dog; the drugged dog.
That's my year!
My hand is now a puppet calling out to you.
The author meditates on traditional lyric subjects like nature, love, and the soul, but teeters between seriousness and lightness, as in the "My Love Has Left Me I Have No Home": "That I dream and that I am a dream and that without my love / my soul runs into the sun. Hey, wait for me! But no. It is a crazy mofo." In "In Memory of a Man," the speaker deadpans, "I would learn the word self-reliance from you; / I did not learn it personally. I might know it to see it."
The poems throughout the collection are unpredictable and have the ability to travel great distances. The speaker is often on some sort of adventure, and the reader is a fellow traveler as he or she follows the speaker to an unknown destination, whether it is running into a fight in "I'm Amazing, I'm a Fireman" or traveling through ducts filled with skeletons to deliver a message to the White House in "The Stuff of Gov't." The adventure and exploration motifs are even reflected in the section titles: "Amid Ocean," "Dry Land," "Hard Earth," and "Up and Away!" In "In Memory of a Man," the speaker names the road the "nomad home" and states, "I have been seeing people hit the road all my life. / It reminds me that I am meant to wander. Wanting." The speaker will wander in a sort of self-imposed exile, always moving, never settling down. The exploration not just that of physical environments, but always of the interior, a constant exploration of the self.
One particularly poignant poem in the collection, "G." appears to be a conversation with god. The poem begins:
I have been told to talk to you with my head down;
if I did not avert my eyes you would not hear. Weird,
I thought, for the maker of heaven and earth to be so insecure
or to be living here, amidst the stink. Let me start again,
I come in peace and in a way being on the side of Life; I am a fan
of your handiwork: flowers, flytraps, burrowing frogs…
But this is not about that, it is about the demons:
Does everyone have them all the time? Like viri or viruses
which flare when the hope is low?
But what begins as a plea for understanding turns into a condemnation: "Who forced us into particular bodies initially? / You that's who! To play with. To infiltrate. / To pay you back."
Union! is at times direct and at times strange and mysterious. The voice, even in its uncertainty, is steady and trustworthy, contemplative and compassionate. Each time I re-read a poem, I notice something new, which is exciting and opens the poems up in new ways. Union! is a promising debut, and I look forward to traveling on more adventures guided by Klein in the future.
Union! By Ish Klein