Review: Zero Gravity by Eric Gamalinda, alicejamesbooks, Farmington, ME, 78 pp, $11.95
Review by Martin Abramson first published in Book/Mark, Fall-Winter 2001
Eric Gamalinda is about as good a poet as I’ve come across among those sub lunar talents seemingly within a few galactic miles of the likes of Yeats or Stevens. And, not to disparage Mr. Gamalinda, the number of such truly impressive poets seems to increase frighteningly and on a weekly basis. While there’s no such thing as too many fine poets, where will we get the time to read them all?
But in the case of Mr. Gamalinda we must surely make the time. His present collection, Zero Gravity, is so consistently original, striking and even shocking that his standing at the very top of the really good new poets is beyond dispute. Almost every line of almost every poem is memorable. It makes a reviewer’s task more difficult when his attempt to cite outstanding lines leads inexorably toward quoting the whole book. But let me make a start.
Mr. Gamalinda’s gaze exposes the world’s cities and landscapes bathed in a super-real light that emanates from and points back toward the realms of spirit
…the sky is a membrane
in an angel’s skull,
trees talk to each other at night,
ice is water in a state of silence,
the embryo listens to everything we say.
In “You Can Choose Your Afterlife,” a minor masterpiece, Mr. Gamalinda explores the strange heavens of the T’boli who assign afterlives according to ways of death. Death by the sword leads the soul into a red world where you are welcomed
with the tintinnabulation
of copper bells
Suicides inherit a land “where everything sways/ even in sleep”. As the poem sweeps to its climax this metaphor is movingly interwoven with the memory of a friend who, even in death, was always “one step ahead”. In a remarkable poem that Eliot might have penned between The Hollow Men and Ash Wednesday, Gamalinda seeks all that has been lost “in a source that is more blue/than anyone has ever seen”. In Blue, Kind of, imagery pours forth with astonishing splendor:
The moon at daytime
still thick with honey and minerals,
the flood tide of rare
and malleable metal.
After a bucolic intermezzo invoking the earthy wholesomeness of a shepherd with goats and dog, the author returns to
…the time of miracles
when all we need to know
will be revealed in dreams,
in water, in the desert,
in arteries, in stones.
We will understand
the persistence of trees
and the agony of rivers
…and in our poverty
there will be much to give
and more light than we can imagine.
In Buddha’s Bone, Gamalinda plays with the notion that chaos and chance are the ruling leitmotifs of this world.
heaven is in the effortless storm
The ancients “learn to revere the places/where time and destiny drop them off/like lost luggage”. Yet in playing our endless tennis game with chaos, we manage to maintain some semblance of a pattern…of a home.
It’s as if we were taking turns
holding sentry over the world,
lest it change too drastically in our sleep.
Somewhere in the Far East, the author sits near a payphone thinking of calling his lover on the other side of the world as the sun “a bowl of saffron light/spills into a river of jade and mud”.The coin in his hand “carries your voice like a charm”. “Distance is something we learn to live with.”
Maybe I’ll be lucky and not miss my train
There are no maps there
and no schedules to guide me.
In trying to communicate his wonderment of life itself, Mr. Gamalinda constantly pushes language into ceremonies of innocence. He wants to send us the silence of an explosion of fireflies that rise in the gloaming. He asks if the disintegrating weave of an abandoned bird’s nest contains memories of lost sunlight.
I want to send you
This little volume is replete with images…archetypes almost…that will incorporate themselves into your life. The battered mother and the son waiting at the station for the train that will help them escape the father…and will later return them to him. The subway busker, her guitar case “an open palm/of frayed blue satin”. The couple in Afghanistan stoned to death for adultery. Lorca on a street in Granada. It is filled with mysteriously spellbinding poems like Uqbaresque, Five Tango Sensations and Definition of Flamenco in 245 Words. Poems whose perfect synthesis and unity defies quotation. Social consciousness here takes the long view seeing not only the pathetic poverty of the beggar in Memory is Not a Privilege of the Poor, but the shadows of memory that surround her. Amorphous shadows of happy memories that we might help her reconstruct, except that we walk away. All these gifts Zero Gravity brings us because “the angels tremble from so much beauty…and rain remembers nothing”.
Reviewed by Martin Abramson