By Sandra Marchetti
Sundress Publications, 2015
71 pages, $12
Reviewed by Liz Purvis
“Beyond the body itself / is a thin blue line, / the sky folding back on its spine.” So begins “The Return,” the third poem in Sandra Marchetti’s Confluence, and this stanza offers a prime example of the images that surface repeatedly throughout its pages.
The first section of Confluence introduces what will become recurring images: the bodies of lovers, water, and sky demand attention, as do birds, flowers, clutches of raspberries on the bush or in the hand. Water and storm imagery is particularly compelling, extending into surprising places, as with the “rafting concrete wave / hefted high” in “Island Park.”
The shorter poems in this collection sing with interesting phrases and odd verbs, particularly in their opening lines. In “Storm Dialogue,” Marchetti writes, “Storms turn on their stomachs and gain on us. / Cloud decks smoke the windows.” Even in places where the narrative falls short, attention to language, assonance and consonance, keeps the reader anchored in these poems with beautiful sounds: “…the skies shave the city gray…storms twin up like rough moons rising.” The lyrical play of language here is compelling, as are peeks into the intellectuality behind the poems. In “Autumn Damask,” the last poem of the first section, the speaker tells us “Comfort is when / you are tethered/ to a place / you couldn’t move / fast from anyway,” and this sudden frankness is startling, intriguing.
Confluence is seems clearly influenced by Elizabeth Bishop, and a poem in the second section even takes its title from her work: “Cold dark deep and absolutely clear.” There’s tension throughout this poem in both language and images. We see “The water a sheet of beat tin…The bed is yellow—a blushing pastel paper / out of context in the hoarfrost season.” At times, the language can become carried away with itself; in “The Language of Ice,” for instance, an inconsistent rhyme scheme feels a bit too sudden and forced, but the clear language of “Skyward,” which begins with “The moon resolves / to a crescent of sparrows” is at once simple, beautiful and surreal.
Confluence is a book concerned, at least somewhat, with place, the Midwest and suburbia in particular. “The East Highlands,” a poem in three parts which appears in the second section, deals with this theme and offers one of the strongest narratives in the collection. Its lines are powerful, visual, and emotive. In “i. Dozer,” “We went to my old neighborhood and even / the streetlights had switched places.” “iii. Memory: Backyard” also depicts a simple, beautiful narrative of a small moment raspberry picking behind a house, its characters walking “slung up with Tupperware,” a mother who “knelt / and bent and threw back stalks.”
In all these poems, there’s beauty in the small moments, small motions, wonder in observation and the physicality of the world. There’s even something compelling in distance and separation, as in several poems in the book’s third section. In “Fissures,” a speaker feels their body disconnect from itself, saying it “lies on the bed in bones / and curls of hair. // There is nothing left / to join it”, and this moment is something of a marvel. Several poems later, in “Tea,” the speaker directs their words to a beloved with “The lit wick of you / sleeps in another country.” Alone, the speaker gazes not at the beloved, but it mesmerized looking “at the glass, / …a flower unfurl” and it’s interesting to see that focus on other objects when the beloved is not there.
In “By Degrees,” the speaker connects the image of flying geese with the beloved, describing how a flock dips and slides before moving into a sudden direct address: “Move over and be as you should be.” Many of these poems share the soft, still voice of a speaker who quietly observes what they view as a truly spectacular world. Imperative, direct moments like this serve as foil and contrast to the softer observations.
A confluence is defined as the joining of two rivers, or the process of merging two things. Lyrical and lush, Marchetti’s book is aptly-named. With its rich sensuality, Confluence joins the physical world with the spiritual, the suburbs with the landscape, the quick with the still.