Open Slowly by Dayle Furlong
Reviewed by Martin Abramson
Dayle Furlong has presented us with a bouquet of glowing love poems; some transparent, most translucent and a few, opaque. And clinging to each of these vivid flowers, like jeweled insects or diamond dewdrops, are striking images to bring delight even when, occasionally, the sense of the poem escapes us.
… the plum-coloured sky
rolls through, the sparked vein of lightning rips and tumbles like a
…we’ll live like lazy flies
swirling in the hot syrup
Leaves lie in piles¾
a blazing circus of decay.
I’ll yell at the sun for
bull-fighting with clouds
the water’s ebb a puppy’s tongue
panting in quick spasms.
a heron emerges
from the inky forest
¾eggshell gray, blue
folded paper toy in flight¾
Open Slowly. The title suggests many implications embedded in the text: the slow growth of awareness in childhood; the slow blossoming of adolescent sexuality; the slow opening to adult love; and the slow recognition of the past entangled with the deep foliage of memory.
Characteristic of the first and last is “Past Flesh”, where the author remembers her father:
I’d bury my face in the nape of his neck
snuggle into the warm, sweet-smelling flesh.
Her mother, buttoning a sweater:
her hands, steaming and soapy, plump and round,
smelt tart and crisp from the green apple dish detergent.
Her wet fingers climbed clumsily up the row of buttons
slipping like insects on wet stones.
A teenage infatuation could be the theme of “Romance Brief”:
a summertime fling
heartbreak in autumn.
… I turn to you, feel you clutch
my hand¾a rhythmic heartbeat¾
our torsos cling to one another
on park benches like vines
On a sinister note, child-molestation is remembered as seen through a child’s eyes in “Say Uncle”:
Under his thumb, she
pleaded, bribed, begged,
desperation choking her face cherry red
when I refused to go in the basement,
fear of spiders and fingers
keeping me above ground.
The word “fingers” informs us that the speaking child had some vague idea of what was happening, but could do no more against adult authority than protect herself.
In an intriguing conceit on calligraphy called “Own Hands, the author is “Tired of gazing down this self-same spot/ the end of a pen” as her writings clamor for fame and attention; “anything to wipe the ink from their faces”. She sits “hunched over, head in palms/ bleeding elsewhere”(not on the paper).
Some of the most sensual of Ms. Furlong’s love poems include:
“Bound”, where we find the lovers in
eyes flashing, hair flying
openings new, whole: unique.
… crevices deep, filled with
rubbed colour, blushing at the edges
“Litany of Desire”, where
My lips shed skin
if only to love you
… you will enjoy me as
blessed and savage
as I tumble head first into you
And “Tangled”, where
I lie like a minnow
let you gulp me in
expel me at high tide
Insects, flowers and birds are among Ms. Furlong’s favorite subjects: viz “For All Their Fluttering”; “Flies”; “In the Butterfly Garden”; “In the Hummingbird Garden”; “A Single Pink Rose”; “Lovers Hunched”; “Smoked Out”; “City Sparrows” and “Scattered”.
Other poems evoke people and situations. “You Were Here” captures the taste and feel of competition between young girls for a Tom Sawyer type playmate. “Experiments with the Living” projects and introjects an early sweetheart who, is fantasized into the present.
…if you were to extort the present from me…
what future could we imagine?
…I remember hours spent sitting on
swing sets as the breeze turned colder than
the ice cream…
now inquiries are embargoes
In “Tonic and Brevity”, the poet contrasts childhood dreams of adulthood: “I’d wear pretty dresses/ and meet men from big cities”; with reality: “free from growing pains in knees/ and the shame of cheap sneakers”.
In Canada, winters are harsh, and spring is the long yearned-for season; several poems reflect this desire. A lovely daguerreotype of the city in deepest winter is etched in “Blue Lips”.
feet burn with the itch of cold
as street cars break down, collide
while buses and trucks
amble by awash in
“Bare” describes a tree denuded by winter winds and just such a skeletal tree is transformed into a bride in “The Ceremony” as blizzards spin a snowy nuptial veil over its branches. In “The Thaw”, the speaker and a friend, hoping to urge spring on, sit on a freezing porch.
the chai latte is hot
and the cinnamon clumps
together at the bottom in cliques
In “Lazy Eye” thawed puddles on the sidewalk, like “icy eyelids melted”, presage warmth that has not quite arrived.
Among the scattered gems of this collection are gritty, realistic poems that describe people. There’s a poem to a statue; one to a prairie storm and a good many that express the author’s feelings about experiences with friends, lovers and children. All are styled in free verse with strong metric and rhythmic energy. Descriptions are sharply focused and finely detailed. This chapbook is as rewarding as it is challenging, and the challenge greatly enhances the reward.