by Lightsey Darst
Red Dragonfly Press 2009
Reviewed by Hansa Bergwall
Toward a Supreme Fiction
In Lightsey Darst’s dark chapbook Ginnungagap, she plays at the perpetual cross-section of time, belief and suffering. The chapbook takes its name from a term in Norse mythology referring to the magical void before creation. The author does not have a consistent cosmology, but all across Ginnungagap, religious or spiritual conceits inform and infuse delicate, modern poems of pain and joy.
Sometimes “God” is capitalized, but this is not an indication that s/he is to be revered. For example, in “Miscarriage,” Darst likens spooning scallops from a shell to her sister’s tragic miscarriage:
the raw body of my
God ate that, beating,
cracking the top of her egg, bending
to scoop with his fingers and suck
what was to be
Nowhere in this chapbook is the divine to be comforting. God is more likely to be a callous tyrant. In “Dog Days,” god is lowercase; god is a small, annoying pest:
When I was little I broke open
the house with its screens
of dying ﬂies. And god
burst in through the crack
I made, buzzing like a wasp.
Both cases evoke a divine with the capacity to hurt. In one, God is a disinterested tyrant who shucks fetuses like they are shellfish. In the next, god is a bug to wave away and a sting to avoid. In other poems, she professes to hate the God of high places and love the gods who are made of twigs and mud and hang around the neck like a primitive talisman. The sum of these gods might be the large God she fears, so perhaps what we have, for whatever reason, is a stated preference for the small comforts of the micro over the inconquerable largesse of the macro. It is a familiar war, rendered here with a careful eye and ear.
In her best poems, Darst presents common scenes packed with the presence of something otherworldly, of indefinable mystery, only vaguely a “God” or “god.” “Blueberry-picking” is a particularly well-crafted example of this:
which fat fruit would come free
from the twigs, I picked a pint,
we picked two, we talked
between the bushes and twice
we heard a train come like
a little relief, or a little reminder,
its shuddering track somewhere by,
behind the empty tobacco barn,
but not so close,
and not so far.
Pleasantly, among friends, life goes on, but is rocked by the shudder of passing trains. No one is quite sure where it comes from. This is the feeling of spirit that Darst consistently invokes: the way moments of religious experience can slip into life unexpected like a wasp, or overwhelm in a moment of grief. Darst imagines and examines each phenomenon in her poetry. She reminds her readers that the ghost of the divine is inextricable from daily life, but never purports to have answers beyond this. These poems feel good to inhabit because of that spark, and her predilection to present the divine without benevolence complicates and undercuts the warm feeling usually associated with divine presence.
After reading Lightsey Darst’s chapbook, I have no idea what her beliefs are beyond the fact that she finds it valuable to ardently to engage with belief and spirit—with the magical void that her title speaks to. It is a rich vein and this little chapbook has some real gems.