Glass Lyre Press
Reviewer: Ann Wehrman
Throughout Ash, Gloria Mindock’s speaker laments a broken marriage, a husband despised, and a home destroyed by fire. Mindock crafts shattered, hallucinatory poems, illustrating the process of destruction and what remains, both within her and without. She writes of intimate relationships and in expanding spirals of consciousness, surveying a modern society fragmented by instability and war. Mindock’s verses persist without remorse, bearing a darkly emotional tone and frequently nihilistic view. Scattered pictures yield mosaics of heartache, while the speaker expresses frustration and despair toward a mate, humanity, and the world.
Mindock’s poems are effectively foreshadowed by the fairy-tale image on the collection’s cover: an elongated doll-like woman set against a blackened brick wall and standing beside piles of white ash. She is not a huggable, fabric doll with a faded, painted-on face; this is a more sinister fairytale. The doll is tall and slim, model-beautiful in a trailing satin gown. She leans with one arm crooked behind her head, flame-like russet curls flowing past her hips, wistful eyes staring to the side as if in a dream or trance. The title poem reinforces the pain and dissociative tendencies suggested by the image:
This is all I am, garbage!
To be buried again into non-existence.
There is a chance I will be recycled.
Later, I could be part of that doll
your child embraces.
One is reminded of the road that writers walk, dying (symbolically) and being reborn as they express their lives’ pain and happiness, transmuting their experiences into art, their process serving as an alchemical “recycling.” In “Crawling Stones,” Mindock eulogizes a lover, perhaps a husband:
He was an insensitive bastard, with his
heart a stone, his eyes, a stone, his legs, a stone,
his arms, a stone
Crawling stones reaching
I got scratched, an achy body, every time
I was with him.
He finally drowned and me, I soared
like a bird, flying across the water, singing.
In “Carrots,” Mindock’s oppressed speaker internalizes blame, at the same time possibly imagining revenge:
There is blood on my hands
from the knife.
It was an accident I said as I
sliced the carrots into tiny roundness.
You lost your appetite.
Blood will do this.
I took the carrots to the sink seeing
water mix with redness.
I pictured a long coffin with water inside,
soaking a body.
The sink was drained, carrots thrown out.
Orange circles in the garbage.
You banged your hands on the table.
It was legitimate.
Does that banging express the ire of a husband who thinks his dinner was spoiled? Did he also use those same hands against the wife who sliced her own finger while preparing his meal? And, in “Plowing” (below), to whom does the speaker muse? She might still love her husband, love mixed with deadly anger, but is there another love being subtly referenced and idolized?
On the edge of the beyond, will you anxiously await me?
What can I say? I have never forgotten you.
There is so much unknown.
Will the endurance pay off?
That there is a different partner being longed for is perhaps confirmed by the final lines of the direct and succinct “Thorn”:
You weighed me down.
Your intelligence, exhausting.
In this hemisphere, aloneness strikes,
an emptiness, a hollow heart shaking.
You are a thorn, hurtful.
Condemned, you realize you aren’t the one.
In several poems, including “Air,” Mindock moves from exploring personal relationships to address broader concerns:
Is there no more hope for the brave
voices shouting out?
There are tears for the widowed families,
for those who lost friends, and prayers offered.
Why is there such violence?
Broken bones stay broken.
Killing is natural for some
The dead bodies cannot sing,
therefore, the world is empty.
In the collection’s penultimate and poignant poem, “Without Peace,” Mindock further expands on her Dantean vision:
The dead have gray skin
Ashes fall on them today
Church bells ring dreamily as the survivors weep
Life is empty, hollow
The world forgets this place
Mindock’s bleak and passionate poems focus on the tensions within human beings and between loved ones, as well as between nations. The urge to fight, to destroy self and others is not new. Arguably, at this time of widespread tribulation, including global warming and climate change, war, international and national tensions, overpopulation, and the wreckage caused by COVID-19, people everywhere are experiencing anxiety and confusion. Parallels between the speaker’s personal Armageddon and the annihilation she sees in the world point to the axiom, “as within, so without.”
For rebirth to occur, however, the past must be destroyed so that new life may sprout and grow from its ashes. Mindock’s intensely personal poems are particularly relevant in this time of tumultuous change: dark verses intoned while standing in the ashes, her world and the broader world burning, the possibility of something new barely visible on the horizon.