The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, by Loren Kleinman, $13.99 (Winter Goose Publications)
The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, Loren Kleinman‘s second collection of poetry, navigates confessional content with tidy, minimalist stanzas. Readers aren’t advised to judge books by their covers, but, in the case of The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, the cover is indicative of the manuscript it’s cradling. Both the title—with its allusion to a somber, lost heart—and cover art—with its deep crimson and kohl shaping a tear-streaked woman’s face—suggest emotional trauma and shadows enshrouding the most vulnerable, vital parts of the speaker.
Kleinman’s collection investigates memory, in some cases providing a speaker who weaves seamlessly through the sensuous experience of her grandmother’s cooking in to a speaker who appears to be still processing the first steps of acceptance of trauma. The Dark Cave Between My Ribs reads as a sort of acceptance process, a poetry-as-therapy diary by the speaker sprinkled with others experiences that help her process her own trauma and memories.
Among the best explorations of memory through imagery, and through a vibrant call to senses, is found early in the collection. “Remembering My Grandmother” illustrates the nurturing, delicate, treasured memories relived in the present tense as implied by the title passing on the grandmother’s legacy to the speaker.
I watch the way her hands cup/ the fragile fish,/ how she spreads the egg yolk/ across its skin,/ so thin.//
The gentle language and ritual of this recipe charge the poem with a sense of time and place, allowing the reader to move through memory and present time with ease. The speaker’s grandmother passes on not only family tradition but also a rich culture, as is manifested in Kleinman’s playful description of baked goods calling to mind the rise of Christ at Easter.
I will have to glaze the Christmas Struffala with honey,/ and make the bread,/ at Easter, rise.//
Trauma related to cultural, and religious, identity are alluded to in many of the persona poems included in The Dark Cave Between My Ribs. Several voices overlap, and Kleinman brings in personas while exploring the past, specifically the tragedies of war and conflict in eastern European history in section IV of the collection, featuring poems like, “Łomża,” “Writing to You, Forever an Ever,” and “They Want You to Believe it Never Happened in the Ponary Forest.”
Kleinman invites reflection and dialogue by using italics throughout several poems. It is particularly effective in evoking, often conflicted, internal dialogue, as seen in the tongue-in-cheek “Everything Must Go” with a self-deprecating writer mirroring external voices by comparing her life to Bukowski’s. Italicized dialogue is also present in the speaker’s revisiting painful memories, as seen in “I’ll Never Leave You” and “Every Moment I’m Not Alright,” and “He Couldn’t Stop.”
For all of the reflection and contemplation upon the anguishes of death and heartache, moments of sunshine peek through the clouds. One lovely instance of this is found in “Good Sleeping Weather,” a poem that shines hopefully. Quoting a Buddhist text, “All the constituents of being are Transitory,” the poem continues,
I hope I’ll see you again/ in the secret place/ where we loved each other.// It existed. I think it existed.//
This self-reflection, internal dialogue, and dreamy hope for a better future through an understanding of the past is the heartbeat of The Dark Cave Between My Ribs.
Kait Burrier has studied and collaborated within theatre and poetry communities across Pennsylvania and in both Brittany and Provence, France. She contributes reviews and articles to The Weekender andHighway81Revisited, and her work has recently been published or produced by Word Fountain, NAP, The Madwoman in the Attic, the Jason Miller Playwrights Project, and the Gaslight Theatre Company.