Be That Empty: Apologia for Air by Alice B. Fogel
(Harbor Mountain Press, Brownsville, Vermont, 2007)
I live on a mountain. So I’ve often witnessed two landscapes from the same window—where the top half may be sunlit blue sky while the bottom half is terrain shrouded in mist. On those days, I know that those in the valley would look up to see gray—while I would see gray topped by a lovely sapphire. I would see what others would have to imagine: fog and sunlight co-existing in harmony. Which is all to say, my empathy for this poem is logical:
MAP OF A DISTANT LAND
I woke up most mornings above the clouds.
There, I waited for that white sky
to lift off from the river below me
and catch up to the air before my eyes.
Half the mountains were mountains
and half the mountains were clouds.
On warm wet summer mornings like this one
I looked across the two rivers, afterthought
of green between them, and the white
mountains that were clouds
rose from the darker, grounded mounds
then passed on through me, and passed
on upward like old souls heading home
at last, turning invisible, slowly, as they flew.
That Blake-an reference as to the significance of image attests to the strength of Alice Fogel’s Be That Empty: Apologia For Air. Fogel’s collection contains poems that begin in nature but move on deftly to reveal an element alchemized from what simmers within the human unconscious:
Be there at dusk when hawks
cross the clearing.
In the smallest thing
live smaller things
as atoms used to be:
even in the intimacy
of what is
Indeed, the poem that most moved me is “FRACTURED LULLABYE” which unfolds to show the evaporation of the seam between planet and human body. This magnificent poem concludes
You whisper, Listen—do you hear the sky?
I answer yes, but it’s the sound
of your effort to take it all in.
One responds in varied ways to settings where one seems alone, where one seems to be the only one standing within a particular landscape. One can feel small standing atop a mountain and witnessing seemingly infinite vistas, below the canvas of the Milky Way or before a clump of huge, ancient redwood trees. One can be humbled. But nature teaches that one is never alone -- that there are always other creatures about even when they are invisible to human eyes.
These poems by Fogel, a poet described as living “off the grid” in New Hampshire, do not use nature to humble the human. Rather, they uplift in the way heightened consciousness makes one more aware. In that awareness, one feels ever more interconnected with the rest of creation. Through interconnectedness, there are no “others.” There’s no need to compare and be humbled (or feel grander): We are all One—as in from "ECLIPSE":
Once upon the day the moon
overtook the sun
and life on earth
included everything ever
made of atoms
and everything else
at all that mattered
manner of other thimgs
with the light of insight
spoke in tongues
to the land
there were none
in the shapes
of crescent moons
because the moon
of the sun
that nightly gives moon
its own light
until the sun
drew such a chiaroscuro
such a brilliant
of light oh
there was a light
us to rounder
suns of brighter
“…brighter days!” Well, oops—I should have mentioned first rather than last, that in this poetry collection, there admirably is that element I don’t notice enough in contemporary poetry: Joy. I am grateful Alice Fogel wrote these poems to connect by sharing radiance and rapture.
Eileen Tabios does not allow her books to be reviewed in Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to Anny Ballardini’s review of her I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved in JACKET, as well as Allen Gaborro’s review of her The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes in the Philippine News.