Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“The walls are warped / to imitate waves,” in the tunnel between terminals at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. “For a moment, / it’s as if we were underwater,” writes Pui Ying Wong, passing between places, studying the opaque glass walls, the changing patterns of illumination, the stony faces of her fellow commuters, “weightless, / speechless on the conveyor belt, staring / straight ahead” as a recorded message drones on about the current state of emergency, vigilance. These are travelling poems, many of them with a jagged rhythm of transit, and, in this inconsistent book’s best moments, the startling clarity of a moment’s impression. While shuttling between China and France, Australia, America, the places that matter most are the smallest, most intimate, most immediately experienced: the surfaces of a bakery, for instance, or a casino where “three laughing Buddha rise to the payline” of a slot machine, the exterior of a sex shop outside of which a bouncer lights the hostesses cigarette and “they stand side by side watching the rain pass.”
In Hong Kong, “Fog bloomed in the harbor,” “moisture so thick you could part it with chopsticks” but Yellow Plum Season is strongest when place becomes localized around the authorial eye, as in the case of a Laundromat reduced to “A single washer,” buzzing, “like a trapped bee, / in the last spin cycle.” General geography is given the texture of dreams—often via dreams, where memories haunt weary travelers. Foreign cities, adopted countries, the sun above, or the moon: these remain constants even in flux, shifting, yet reliable just as one set of “ancestor-blessed walls” is left behind and another room is entered, a room, for instance, A room “grown large, empty as the sea,” that “gives nothing back except breakage. On / the stove a low blue flame, outside in the / car-park, slush, ice, slush, clouds racing clouds.”
The travels aren’t always via terminals or through ports, nor are the final destinations familiar, even from photographs. Yellow Plum Season contemplates, too, that ultimate journey, when it is not just night that “folds up / like an origami crane” but life itself. One of the sparsest, most consuming pieces describes what one must assume are the final moments of a friend to the narrator, a witness at the hospital bedside recording the scene in lines light as raindrops. Here, as another poem’s nightmare scene puts it, “There are no more tickets to where you want to go,” and the poetic narrator must stand on the far shore and chronicle someone else’s leaving. There are twenty syllables to this poem, as much about the particulars of the world as it is about loss, and reading these twenty syllables feels, itself, like a long journey, leaving one altered, weary and exhilarated, older than before.
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