Tiny Sabbath

by Helene McGlauflin,
Finishing Line Press, 2010,
27 pages, paper, $12.00,
ISBN: 1-59924-675-9 / ISBN: 978-1-59924-675-8
Buy the Book

The word-music in Tiny Sabbath hums like a tuning fork; the vibe’s pitched low, nudging McGlauflin’s subjects center stage, where they play on a Mozartian scale.  My first impression, however, recalled the words of a rock music critic, who was comparing my beloved BeeGees to the Everly Brothers: He asserted that both groups produced “harmonies so close they could only be produced by siblings.”

I say this because on the back of Tiny Sabbath, there’s an extensive blurb from the poet’s sister, Marita O’Neill — an esteemed friend and colleague — author of Love Dogs and Evidence of Light.  While this close a blood-bond could produce a skewed assessment, Marita ably plucks the major chords.  Her blurb begins by quoting Emerson: “Here we find ourselves suddenly . . . in a holy place.”

It’s apropos.  An unabashed fervor ends McGlauflin’s “To the Medieval Christian Mystics,” the final couplet echoing Marita’s fusion of the historical and the mystical: “May I offer you a damp cloth for your face, a cold drink for your thirst, / and sit by you a while silently in the sun?”  At times, not wholly consoled by the devout “vocal colors” of, say, a Pavarotti singing “Ave Maria,” McGlauflin displays a dissonant relationship with Catholicism, in poems infused with telling colors or the absence thereof.  In “White Carnation Club,” she revisits a Mother’s Day rite in which, after Mass, pink blooms were sold to those with living mothers, while those with deceased  matrons were obliged  to choose white:

I was forty when my turn came to lift a white

carnation from the basket, join the club.  Standing in

the inevitable rain at her grave I was unaware of my

status until my bubble of self-absorption popped,

and I turned to see that cluster of black umbrellas. . . .

As mother, teacher, yoga instructor, and counselor, she intuits that the jangling chaos of Today will — someday — make us all yearn for the “snows of yesteryear” (to translate the French bard Villon).  The poem “Sirens” exemplifies McGlauflin’s wisdom; she acknowledges the angst one experiences, applying mindfulness to past and present:

In my girlhood

we stopped everything for prayer

when we heard sirens.  Our sister

would put down her chalk, wipe dust

from her delicate hands and begin:

in the name of the father, son, spirit

we pray for the care of the afflicted.

Who were they?  Where did sirens go?

Note the “accuracy” of the metaphor in this snippet from stanza two:

. . . Now empty of prayer

I still stop to wonder where sirens go

what hand gave the roulette wheel a spin

what chance allowed my marble to fall

in a winning slot at this moment

allowing me to stand whole beneath

a clear September sky.

Quoting half this poem demonstrates its effective, breathless enjambment: For when I hear “clear September sky,” and (later) “tomorrow may be my day to lose,” I immediately flash back to 9/11: the cloudless sky smudged — far-away — by high-jacked jets deployed as missiles.

We “rural” Mainers can give thanks we’re not the bulls -eye of

al – Qaeda (remember? — two terrorists flew from Portland early that day!), yet her apt roulette metaphor reminds us that all our prayers can NOT eliminate Chance, whether it’s (in the words of Bush Junior), “for us, or against us.”

McGlauflin’s credo, expressed in her second poem “Companion,” is alone reason enough to buy this book.  Here are the final lines,

a consolation to those who answer — sometimes reluctantly — to the persistent demands of the Muse:

. . . Oh, there are days

you may want to run away, hide in some dark quiet place,

but she will call for you, search for you, find you, hold you.

Peter Manuel