by Danielle Pafunda
Bloof Books 2008
Reviewed by Caroline Depalma
Smash a Mirror with a Hatchet
The speaker in Danielle Pafunda’s second book lies within the fragments of a broken mirror. Her search for identity begins with the creation of the imaginary alter ego, Zorba. Zorba is essentially male (among other things), juxtaposing the speaker’s essentially female identity. The book’s cover, bearing an axe atop a deep wash of pink, supports the speaker’s struggle to destroy an invented self she once felt she needed.
Pafunda is seldom forthright or even clear—and willfully so. But to call Pafunda’s book a gamble would do it little justice. Using images of body parts (frequently chopped away from the body) and the forces of nature which affect growth in both the male and female bodies, Pafunda smashes her speaker free from the outside in.
The male/female interaction comes full-circle in “A Parsimonious Holiday,” wherein the speaker and Zorba interact on two different occasions and end up on different levels for the first time; the speaker finally begins to see the ill-effects of her creation. Call it a modern day Frankenstein. The second section, composed entirely of image clips, illustrates the fragmented mind as well as an example of Pafunda’s axe-chopped lines:
The tooth of a jimmied lock. I crossed the carpet, and smoothed
its tussled furs. In the closet. A determined grey stiletto.
The hangers were hooked to the bar, the rungs to the pants
by a series of pins through which one could look, could squint.
“Safely,” amidst trapped objects, provides the narrator with comfort, which is also a mild relief for us after the first section of the poem, a view of the speaker and Zorba at a Mexican restaurant. A twist on the ordinary menu, the speaker wants a kitten while Zorba wants to pull the stitching of the waitress’s apron. In blatant disregard for the mind that created him, he refers to it as “a golden egg.” The poem ends with Zorba and the speaker at an ampitheater, where the speaker is again degraded by her invented love: they “said ‘great reviews’. Said, / ‘present company excluded,’ while Zorba put down his program.”
If the book is in fact operating as a broken mirror, we are not left without a tube of glue. The turning point of My Zorba begins after the conclusion of “A Parsimonious Holiday.” The speaker begins to realize, slowly, that she doesn’t need some invisible doppelganger to fully validate her existence: perhaps she is dignified on her own. The book then progresses into a series of letters, entitled “In the Iron Caisson,” wherein the speaker addresses everyone from her grandmother to her avon lady.
In the center of “In the Iron Caisson,” the internal monologue shifts to Zorba, with a one line section that reads: “keep your voice down.” Not surprisingly, the poem follows two pages after an address to the Colonel, which reads like a solution in the mystery game Clue:
The vote was split. I said aye and Zorba nay. We cannot
expect you. About half as much. The bone should be no shock,
the crew raise no brow, and the terminal degree a full plow.
The power the speaker displays by taking the role of crime-solver is intriguing simply because she is investigating her own murder. By splitting the vote between the “I” and Zorba, the decision to separate has finally been made. The poems that follow this sequence lend to the speaker’s choice to let go of the fragmented self and live alone.
The final poem, “Sweets,” is delivered in two parts. By the end of each, the speaker defends herself and causes harm to Zorba. Part one concludes, “I’d like an ice with that. To ice you.” Subtler, the second section (the book’s final scene) calls for a birthing speech with “extra care in applying makeup,” a tender sign of appreciation of one’s own body. Suddenly she’s on her own: “I haven’t a coffee spoon, marmalade, / a clue.”
Pafunda addresses you indirectly; she relies on shocked fragments, on jagged rhythms and imagery. A glued mirror can’t hide its fragmentation. Pafunda relies on your ability to intuit a whole, not your ability to apportion its parts. There are times when you won’t know what the speaker is getting at just yet. Mirrors reflect the most insignificant details right beside the ostensibly significant. Does this require too much imagining on our part? Is it worth the leap? Lay your cash on the table beside her hairbrush and hatchet; this isn’t a disappointing gamble.