Monday, September 12, 2016

Sylvia Fischbach Braden, Karl Marx Imperial Dispensary and Himalayan Tea Garden

Sylvia Fischbach Braden, Karl Marx Imperial Dispensary and Himalayan Tea Garden
Silver Oaks Press (Baltimore Maryland), © 2016

I sat down and read the 22 poems in this stunning book, and found myself at a loss.  I am reminded of Buddy Glass (in J.D. Salinger’s “Seymour: An Introduction”) saying that what he wants to do for his readers is plunk down all the poems written by his older brother Seymour.  I find myself wanting to type this book out for you to read now, to fall into now, to discover now.  I started by putting bookmarks on the pages of the poems that particularly moved me, but stopped, because I was bookmarking almost every page.  I want to quote from them (and will, a little, but only a little).

I should say that Sylva and I attended the same high school, graduating in 1965, and that, of all the people I knew there (and we had, I think, an extraordinary class), only Sylvia intimidated me (intellectually).  And now, 51 years later, I find myself intimidated again by the brilliance and intimacy of what she has written.  She weaves together her life with her memories of (and love for) her mother, father, sister, grandparents, and I, the reader, became surrounded by her words, caught voluntarily in them, wishing the book were longer. 

In time, the poems span the 20th century; in space, they move from India to St. Louis to Indianapolis, to Baltimore.  Emotionally, from tranquility to anger (“Sestina: Hopping Mad”) and back.

Her use of language—simple, direct—is stunning.  For example, from “Seedpods Explode in Eden:

I like to imagine
Impatiens glandulifera
blooming prodigiously
in the foothills
behind Eden Hospital,
the now-crumbling edifice
in Darjeeling
where my mother was born…

I’m not going to quote it, but the fourth stanza in “It’s May” is one of the most effective uses I have read of using language to evoke a feeling of love and (it seemed to me) loss.  “The Upanishad Admonishes” is a perfectly wrought reminder that our lives are more than this or that (and reminded me of the great Issa’s haiku, “I know this world of tears/Is only a world of tears/And yet…and yet”).  The three “Grayson’s Tail” poems are beautiful—and simple, especially the final line of the second one (“Grayson”).  And this, from “New Year,” transfixed me:

(And now I’ve spent
half an hour on you tube
dancing with tiny rhythmic
hip and shoulder shrugs
inside my swivel chair,
listening with love and awe
to Oscar Peterson
and others
Begin the Beguine).

(And I’ll save you the trouble of looking for it yourselves—it’s here.  And listening with love and awe is the only possible response to almost anything played by Oscar Peterson.)

But enough.  If you possibly can, find this book, read it.  And re-read it.  It is a beautiful book.  Written by a beautiful person.  Peace, and love, Sylvia.

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