By Greg Bem
And serious thought comes
to capture us with so much
Holaday Mason is a poet of California and beyond, her work stretching into the desert, the forest, and deep within the unconscious dreaming mind. She is not new to poetry. Finalist of the 2005 Autumn House Press Prize and semi-finalist for both the Backwater Press and the Tupelo Press awards, Dissolve is her second full-length book. It is a startling and quiet assortment of verse bent on describing loss and flight from as many different angles as possible. Despite the bleak, fatalistic glare that dulls outward from the poems, Mason’s messages remain static and approachable enough to support the success of the book as a whole.
Evenly divided into four spliced, crisp chunks, Dissolve is more importantly founded within the individual poems. As reflections of the box-plot book-sized arc, each poem relies upon the management of the belief in the poetic voice. The narrator is one who is so esteemed in beauty as escape that the only answers to the personal trials faced come in the form of level corners and identifiable ground. But at what cost? Within the pages there is a classic melancholy at work. Amidst the memory and the holistic bedazzlement, the learned enlightenment, we have the darker shades of living, presence, and removal:
He called from the Petrified
Forest, then for his mother, in his sleep.
He hasn’t called and won’t again—no need
really, he’s reached the trees.
Dream, Somewhere in September
The characters and their relation to the narrator, as imaginary as it may be or as historically founded as it may be, rely on a bruised love tinted in quakes of emotion. There are starts and there are stops: beginnings lead to ends and ends lead to more beginnings. This is storytelling at its most honest, where the beauty in it remains the most gruesome kind. But this is life, and life can be ugly:
while the rightful owner
swims in Belize,
her too-young ex-husband
bashing into bar fights,
from their old bungalow’s lawn,
not really knowing that it’s
really, finally, over.
Familiar Spring Scenery, Using a Broad Brush
Mason’s craft is exquisite and aggressive. At no point in the book is there a lull that has not earned its relative point of pacing. Each rise and fall and ebb and flow of the text is merited by the amount of expression the speaker, as mirrored by the reader, takes in and responds to, continues on with in relation to the warping planes of waking and dreaming life.
The four sections are important boundaries, operating to mark subtle stylistic and minor thematic differences. Their real importance, which can only be observed after an initial reading of the book, is that they become benchmarks, or roadblocks. The poems suck air from your lungs and force a moment of pause. They beg a realm of paced understanding fueled by the geography of existence, where landscapes are drenched in empathy, pity, and relief:
And the long compositions shift
onto shadows nearly as forgotten as a snow—flurry
where once he wrote my name eight or nine times
(in long hand) in the condensation on the living
room windows, as if outlining a crime scene,
or searching for the perimeter of my body
in the letters—
Patterns of Migration
As the poems progress, one after another, mostly a page or two in length, the poetic reality shivers. It is a bold message. What is life but multiple crises occurring steadily rather than a single looming, leering climax to explode out of one’s entirety. No, there is no high point or mode of transition that dominates over the others. Instead, the poems as experiences are on equal ground. The flat floor of the earth creates similar experiences without priority, without bias.
Mason’s talent is valuable. What we learn is how to intercept that certain grace of the misery and the solace that follows us around on a daily basis. Take note not of only those spectacular instances of beauty but rather of the power and influence of every act that is taken, every move responded to.
There will be no other years.
I will sleep on the floor
in a quiet belonging
to me which won’t lie.