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Carpathia

Poems by Cecilia Woloch
© 2009, BOA Editions Ltd.
ISBN 978-1-934414-26-2

 

A Review by Maria van Beuren


Carpathia is a very aptly named collection of lyrical poems and prose-poems, since the word Carpathia refers to the Carpathian Mountains in southeastern Poland, a geographic region that is probably little-known to most American readers. And the poet Cecilia Woloch’s great skill is transporting the reader to new and unfamiliar regions: geographic regions and regions of the heart and soul, including back to some glorious lunacies of childhood, friends from youth, and first love.

The greatest testimony to Woloch’s artistry and evocative power is the fact that, in anticipation of writing this review, this reviewer read aloud from Carpathia to her sister, who was literally trapped in a reclining chair, receiving intravenous chemotherapy. In the hour or two that she listened, my sister agreed that many of the poems were extraordinarily compelling, pulling the reader and listener out of their present circumstance into far-away realms. (Of course, we fell into a fit of uncontrollable giggles over some lines in “Why I Believed, as a Child, That People Had Sex in Bathrooms,” and my sister’s IV pump’s alarm couldn’t deal with it, so we had to sober up fast.) My sister and I agreed that our favorite, the one that fills us with homesickness for, and yet pure pleasure in, the place it describes, is the one reproduced here. I hope the poet will count this review as a postcard to her, a heartfelt thank-you from two sisters temporarily confined to a corner of an oncology ward, but able to travel afar through time and space on the power and beauty of the poem:

Au Revoir, Paris

Loveliest of what we leave behind are the waiters
Flirtatious and quick, sliding in slick-soled shoes
From table to tiny table, winking and clinking the silver
And singing us sweet, sweet Mademoiselles

And loveliest after those Mademoiselles with their sleep-strewn hair
With their careless scarves at their delicate throats
With their serious books on their laps as the metro glides toward St. Michel

And also les vieilles hommes who grunt and sigh as we Pardon past
And the old Mesdames with their little dogs
Trotting along beside their ankles of terrible woe but no regret

And lovely the dog shit we dodge on the sidewalks, piles of it
Gleaming and green with flies

And lovely, still, the late gold light
And the mauve-breasted pigeons, plump with crumbs
And the blush of cassis in the wine
And the flicked cigarettes and the jangling coins
And the murmur of languages we half-understand

And lovely how evening falls like silk
Along the river—au revoir
And how we’ve been loveliest, always, here
And how we’ve missed nothing, and how we’ll be missed


Maria van Beuren is an indexer and poet. She is also head of Toad Hall, a writer’s retreat in New Hampshire, and editor-in-chief of Toad Hall Press, a small press dedicated to publishing new poets.

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