3.Avatar Review
     A Review of Poetry, Prose, and Art - Summer 2001

Ocean Avenue, by Malena Morling
(New Issues Press, 1999)

Reviewed by Steve Harris

Malena Morling writes poetry that possess a gentle wisdom. In many ways the reader is reminded of the innocence of a Blake or a Whitman. There are of course harsh realities, but Morling refuses to be pulled under, and as a result the reader floats along with her, as if in a spiritual amniotic fluid. In the poem "For F.M. Who Did Not Get Killed Yesterday on 57th Street," Morling recounts the shooting of a friend, how he "darted like a fish," through the hole, "the bullet made in the air." But Morling is clearly thinking of a friend who now lives on only in memory:

You became air,
refusing to thicken, refusing to talk back
or move unless the wind moved
as it does now through the elms
and the ailanthus. Today I can hear
the ocean at the end of the block
tossing itself up on the beach,
the sound of it has entered everything in the house,
even the thimbles in the drawers.

There is no sadness here, no despair, but an incredible balance, a mature and intelligent sweetness. Indeed, each poem in this collection possesses a consistent tranquility that radiates out from Morling's center, her poet's voice. However, Morling's tranquility is also one that takes in all of , all of life's obligations, her meditations are unselfish, clear in their assessment. The poor, the blind, her family members, are in her thoughts, but always there is the sweet consideration:

This too is for my sister
who walks home at night from work
at the sugar factory in the newly fallen snow.
It's for her cough and her kindness
which reminds me of your kindness
and of the unseen stone
that floats beneath each cloud
and of the herring in the buttermilk
and the other mussel-shell mosaics of wonder.
(from "For Joseph Cornell")

Whether God exists in this world or not seems almost irrelevant (or unanswerable) for Morling. She is an observer of the "invisible wedding of the present moment," in a sense she is poetry's St. Therese of Liseaux who sees the holiness of the moment. In the poem "May All Beings Have Happiness and the Causes of Happiness," Morling reflects as she watches her son sleeping, enters the boy's dream, while at the same time, observant of the physical world. She is always inside and outside of the dream of life.
                    And inside
the purple hood around his head
a dream flickers through the aether.
The only light today
is what the last
of the yellow leaves emit
into the gray drizzle
that slides down
the slick, black maples
and into the earth.
But Morling is not stuck in an unreal dream, but like a saint adjusting her prayer, she remembers the poor and the elderly, and her paralyzed friend Julia:

My paralyzed friend Julia
who lies in a hospital on Roosevelt Island
must know the first light
in the morning
as it spills in along the edges
of the drawn vinyl curtains
and begins to touch each face
in each bed, must know
how it wanders over the lips
of those who have forgotten
how to speak in words,
and up over the cheekbones and eyes
and through the fine hairs
of their eyelashes—

But she closes the circle, returns to her son's dream, sees its purity, sees how it is free of the absolutes of past and future.

                 And in there,
in my son's dream, in there in space,
nobody tells him places absolutely exist,
or that signs actually tell us where we are.

Morling does touch quite frequently on death and misfortune, but they are always placed within a context, balanced out, always leaving the reader with the feeling that Morling has succeeded in showing you how to "slice butter in heaven." And Heaven, the sky, is always present in Morling's poems, its clouds racing over our existence, part of a movement that never stops.

How wondrous strange it was at that moment
to be in the flesh. Far off, fleets
of clouds moved over the grass.
And on the ground, their shadows
that will never be aloft
raced after them.
And everywhere we looked there were dandelions.
Those lights that have grown up out of the earth.

(from "How Wondrous Strange It Was at That Moment to Be in the Flesh")
Malena Morling is a poet whose inner calm works wonders in an age of violence.

© Copyright 2004 Avatar Review.