Cathedral of Wish
by Cammy Thomas
paper, 52 pages, $14.95
Cammy Thomas's tough little lyrics revisit a childhood as if through a prism: they contain the whole, but refract it into distinct panes so we can see up close what would be too terrible intact. Their utter spareness and refusal to sentimentalize the hard facts make them both spooky and powerful. What's most moving to me is the way the child survives as a ghost inside the adult. It's as if the child has finally allowed the adult to say what was, until now, unsayable.
These fiercely clear-eyed, dry-eyed poems see what is given to them to see with the strange, steady lucidity of a fever dream. It is a charged inheritance, both dark and tender, lush and harsh. Here, 'stern old god the father/ ashed his cigar/ in a silver porringer,' while the mother (in 'Snake') 'scoops up something/ nothing to it she says/ as it writhes in the air/ and we back away admiring.' What are we offered that might not burn or bite? Books, bottles, shotguns, violins, all the family instruments of sweetness and destruction as orchestrated in Thomas's heart-breaking poems, these are manifestly musical instruments, with a music both haunting and halting, aware of the harm in charm. And yet there is a gusto, too, in the sound, for example, of 'rococo radiators whanged with sticks,' that promises not to be beaten, to give back as good as it gets.
What a fierce beauty, something 'coiling and jeweled/ twisting in the dark,' Cammy Thomas has brought into the light in Cathedral of Wish. Out of the blazing havoc, the searing extravagance of the family crucible, after the consuming flames, what remains in these poems is only the hardest substance, only the stuff that's true.