Soldier On

soldieronGale Marie Thompson
Tupelo ($16.95)

by Jenny E. Drai

Soldier On, Gale Marie Thompson’s first full-length collection of poetry, begins with a poem (“Cilantro Blue”) that includes the line, “Anything is harbor. Anything is singing.” What comes after that is a poetry of loosely gathered language—just stubborn enough to cohere, just disjointed enough to take on the characteristics of a delicate but indelible lace.

Throughout Soldier On, the poet approaches well-known cultural icons with the same ethereal grace as she does the subject of the heavenly bodies (and everything in between). Thus, familiar figures stand alongside the unknowable and the mundane. Yet in Thompson’s language—often declarative, sometimes questioning—nothing is ever pedestrian, the commonplace elevated instead to an almost eerie calm that belies the friction underneath. “It is me, sinking at the bottom of the pool,” she begins “Poem to John Denver,” in both an announcement of place and an entreaty to take notice. A few lines down, the speaker reveals physical location as she discusses once almost touching the singer-songwriter’s house. On the other hand, where the poem is located in the heart of its speaker is unveiled at its end:

Existence is having a form.
No more will I race uphill
thinking delicacy, restlessness.
This mountain is famous
because, because.

In Thompson’s poetry, it is the ability to form language, to hold that subject to a place through language, that spells existence. But what do we, her readers, gain from such apportionment? Consider the second half of “Sigourney Weaver:”

All I want is for someone to let me love them, all of them.
I’d always trust them until they broke my heart.
They say snow monkeys have the greatest sense of love.
Last night I had a dream that my mother was Sigourney Weaver.
She stitched me up after my body and everything else split open.
She could smell the top of my head and know I was hers.
We were sitting there on the couch
and outside the moon rose over and over again.

Here, it is the familiar figure of a celebrity (as opposed to the reality of a flesh-and-blood person) that provides the harbor first mentioned in “Cilantro Blue,” and that serves as a stabilizing force as the speaker finds herself undone. This act is mirrored by Thompson’s long lines, which lull the reader towards complicity, even dependence, with their intentional, slightly false, sing-song. We grow to understand as we read the poems in this book that we live in a world of shapes and figures, both static and kinetic, all of whom possess an interiority and complexity that illuminate our way even as we never truly comprehend them. As the title suggests, we just have to keep going.

Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2015 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2015