Black Pearl: Poems of Love, Sex and Regret.
Purple Flag. 2016. 66 pp.
I find it difficult to think of a book that is more intimate than Albert DeGenova's Black Pearl: Poems of Love, Sex and Regret and at the same time so connected to universal themes. The subtitle itself gives us that universality—we know at the outset, to some extent, what we will be seeing as readers. The frank intimacy on the page makes the connection to love and sex clear, but the idea of regret was one I teased out of various poems as I read and one I followed in a variety of directions through the book.
I found the idea of regret connected to time and its passing in many of these poems, and once I began reading for this idea of time, I found it almost everywhere and could almost imagine I heard a clock ticking as I turned the pages. For example, this collection gives us nights that pass too quickly, words left unsaid, and "the front porch of old age." This last phrase comes from "Intimacy Cocktail," a poem that looks at much that is desired, "the taste of heather honey and fireworks," but leaves us, at the poem's conclusion, near life's end with lingering thoughts of the past. And while we may regret a past relationship has ended, in this book, desire itself is never regretted. Memory is a valuable coin here that can buy us much, but nonetheless, time is always passing.
The idea of time is given meaning here through being anchored in both places and artifacts. The artifacts in question are often photographs, and we see them at the beginning of the poem in "Seconds Make Years." The poem begins with "Curling, creased photos tossed / across our bed of tangled / blue sheets," and that beginning places memory directly in the bed, where it will remain throughout the collection. This poem, as many of its siblings, is brief but powerful, and the end leaves us with "no before, no after / the infinite composing," and those lines move us beyond regret for time lost and into the eternal. We see photos again in "Feed Me" in a stanza that gives us the idea, "No cold silk sheets, no / yellowed photographs, no / sad sighs... can squeeze between / our belly to belly / tongue to tongue / moments of flaming brandy / served in delicate green crystal." "Feed Me" is one of the longer poems here, and it ends with a blurring of persons. And if "the picture / [that] unfolds under clear green glass" is "me in you in me in / you in me," then think what having to separate a joined being does to memory and gives it even more power as a relic of the past.
This collection leaves me with, not a sense of regret, but with an expanded notion of place as more than a physical location. I remember "the front porch of old age" and how the body itself houses the many rooms of our individual pasts. The title poem of the book is also the final poem, and a few lines from the last stanza bring the collection together in unexpected ways: "My god / is not this heaving brute of sea, but a quiet / black pearl in the shell of my heart" gives added reverence to all, and when god is mentioned again in the very last line, we know which god this is, the black pearl, and that there is "Too much love in my one stormy life to ever deny god."
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