Saturday, April 8, 2017
THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL by ANDREW and DONORA A. RIHN
STEVE KLEPETAR Reviews
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: An Election Cycle by Andrew and Donora A. Rihn
(Moria Books’ Locofo Chaps, Chicago, 2017)
The five poems in this short, intense chapbook make use of this famous title as a thematic framework, rather than as an homage. Their work itself has nothing to do with Blake’s brilliant, often baffling satire; rather it works with the ideas of marriage, as a kind of secular heaven – these are very fine and convincing love poems – in the midst of a hellish political climate. “Pastoral,” a word brimming with irony, announces the intertwined themes:
We got married the day before the election.
My husband and I, newly minted
monogamists, stood with eyes welled
before the judge. I wore a black
lace dress and new shoes.
There they are, the two poles around which these poems revolve: we got married/election. The two are “newly minted/monogamists,” announcing sexual experience and the willing choice to, as the saying goes, “renounce all others.” The sense of romantic love and sexual attraction is heightened by the black lace dress, which plays against the traditional virginal white. We witness them bound in love; it is before the election, and all is, or seems, well.
Dark hints lurk in the background. Some months before the two had moved into a tiny house on a lake – how pastoral is that? Of course, there is a serpent in that Eden. They learn that a near neighbor “keeps five Confederate flags/flying at all times.” Another neighbor undresses in front of another flag. Are those incidents, with their frightening reminders of resurgent white supremacist sentiment, harbingers? It seems so:
The night after the election,
I lie in bed with a migraine,
the worst I’ve had in nearly a year.
Even a shower with water as hot as she can stand cannot wipe away the election results and all they imply. The personal – intense love sanctified in marriage – becomes intertwined with, and must stand in opposition to the political. In another poem, “Les Temoins,” they sit in a booth in Denny’s watching the election results, horrified as their untouched coffee gets cold:
Together we bear witness
to this news. An old Greek man
calls to us from two booths back.
Witness, he says. In Greek,
the word witness means martyr.
Again the word choices reinforce the theme of love among the ruins: “together,” “bear witness,” “martyr.” Marriage – young love – is heaven; politics is hell, and the only way to get through it is together, though something desperate clings to that hope.
The collection’s penultimate poem, “A Becoming,” describes that love in terms of color and heat:
I love you now like so much blue fire, and
we will live here. We will live here.
Ending a line with the conjunction “and” rather than the much stronger “fire” takes a risk that pays off, as it both holds the reader for a split second and serves as a bridge to the defiant statement, repeated for emphasis. Resistance matters, but no more than relationship. The line insists on the “we,” not the “I.” We will face this together, it says; we have chosen our ground, and we will not move. We will survive, we will live HERE, not in some other country as refugees from whatever terror may come, but here, as resisting lovers.
Steve Klepetar’s work has appeared in nine countries, in such journals as Boston Literary Magazine, Deep Water, Antiphon, Red River Review, Snakeskin, Ygdrasil, and many others. Several of his poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, including four in 2016. He has published 12 collections, the most recent of which include "A Landscape in Hell" (Flutter Press); "Family Reunion" (Big Table Publishing); and "How Fascism Comes to America" (Locofo Chaps).
Posted by EILEEN at 8:11 AM