Review

Between the Hours by Barbara Siegel Carlson

Between the Hours
by Barbara Siegel Carlson
Finishing Line Press, 2022
27 pages

In “Without a Trace,” Barbara Siegel Carlson writes:

Chekhov said nothing in this world is clear and believed the heart a wanderer, each of us
making our way through one moment after another like phantoms…and though some of the detail is exquisite, it may never have existed….

 

The poems in Carlson’s chapbook, Between the Hours, present a journey of the heart through dreams, or through those liminal spaces we find ourselves in while barely awake. We find ourselves exploring the rooms of a house that may be a memory or may be a dream. Carlson distills these experiences, presenting “half-visions and swiftly moving scenes of a story entire in each fragment, a voice, road, part of a room or door half open.” It is believed that to dream of rooms is symbolic of the many facets of a personality; to dream of a door half open represents a desire for exploration. It is in these places that Carlson takes us that “anything can come inside, only there is no inside, only darkness where you have been.”

The collection is grounded by many of the poems addressing a second person—the abstract or the beloved other. In “To the Darkness,” the speaker asks, “Where did you begin/to live under the light,” and continues with images of liminality and love, “all middle places where love once/opened & keeps opening here are all the thresholds….” The second-person address balances the sense of dream with the sense of intimacy. This replicates memory, or the speaker’s perception of a past relationship. In “Memory,” she writes:

 

The light

 opened parts of your face
I had never seen. You were someone
I had known a long time before
but never really known. Someone
who had long ago touched
and filled me with a dream
that doesn’t die. In this dream
you are looking at me
with wonder, mystery and passion.
There is nothing after that.

 

This becomes, then, a book about heartbreak. The poems are physical and elemental in their sadness and passion. “To the Wind” asks, “Do you ever want to rest in my bones? / And what would you say to them?” Carlson returns to images of arms and the heart in her more intimate poems. In “The Hour,” the speaker wonders, “Maybe it’s searching, calling to return, deciding who will disappear into it. And where does it go as it takes us into its clear arms?” Carlson presents heartbreak as eternal and disorienting because of the endurance of the heart. In “Paradoxical,” the image of Joan of Arc’s heart surviving the flames burns through, almost like a molten hinge connecting the stars in the universe with spring dawn:

 

The astronomer Olbers called
the universe a paradox
because its age is infinite with stars,
so the night should be made of light.
Joan of Arc cried out
as her body was eaten by flames,
but her heart was never consumed.
Maybe her voices carried her
into the oldest night
of this early spring dawn.

Between the Hours, in its dream distillations, captures that moment:

When she opens her eyes,
she finds herself stranded, no longer
a passenger. Or is she alone in that plane with the roar
of its engine? Maybe her bed is the ground
made of what fell from the wings.

I loved this liminal place of breath and fire and heartbreak. Carlson’s voice, so evocative of Jean Valentine’s, is unafraid to explore, claim, and capture “where/the heart’s blood comes from.”

 

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