Review of Seth Berg's MUTED LINES FROM SOMEONE ELSE'S MEMORY
Seth Berg. Dark Sky Books, $12 paperback (79p) ISBN 978-0615357171
Not Asking Much (Pg. 41):
A rabbit ran across my path
and dashed into the snow bank…
why could it not have been
a wizard playing a piccolo?
The morning I removed my air-conditioner from my window was the morning I sat down and read Seth Berg’s poetry collection Muted Lines From Someone Else’s Memory. With the air-conditioner gone, there was new light in my room and a nice, nibbling chill in the air despite the cloudless, September blue. As I read Seth’s words—sweatshirt on, hood drawn tight beneath my chin—the realization that summer was almost over and all things move forward snapped firmly into place.
The poems in this collection are caught perfectly in that forward motion, sometimes reaching back like a sad smile in a crowd, a memory urging us to follow. They offer a true sense of the cyclical nature of things, inviting us to look up, down, backward, and within. These poems put your head on a swivel, but delightfully so.
Mastication (Pg. 12):
A bison in the meadow
says forget about the cud;
there’s a kite in the sky
without a person.
I’m all about the merger of man and nature, and Berg executes this union with wit and whimsy. In The Katydid (Pg. 32) he brings the two together quite literally:
I squint my peepholes when a katydid
flies neatly toward my face;
Perhaps my mouth looks like a flower;
red, full, bursting.
Maybe the scar on my forehead
looks too much like her sister;
slender, keen, relaxed.
Either way, I swallow her whole,
inhaling like a stupid typhoon.
While Berg writes about the inescapable, forward propulsion of life, he also reminds us of the doors that come with it, the blurred lines along the edges, the shape of things, of our memories as they evolve, and he encourages us to push through, a hand breaking the surface of the water, and then dragging, slowly, downstream. The result is a dreamlike, often playful understanding of the things that surround us and comprise our lives.
Coming out of Anesthesia (Pg. 56):
My hyacinth turned
into a motorcycle
shaped like a unicorn
eating an umbrella…
you should have seen
the teeth on that fucker…
In My Eight-Month-Old Niece is Telepathic (pg. 11) Berg muses on the mind of a child, and lingers for a moment, humorously, on the innocence it offers:
…I tell her I like that she questions humankind
and that she smacks an open-handed symphony on my face…
Childlike wonder is a theme that permeates this collection, but it’s not exclusive to children: the narrator of these poems grapples with the effects of accidents and aging, and uses it, perhaps unwittingly, to move closer to that dream world all around us.
From At the Bar (Pg. 30):
…I, too, am modified,
my body nowhere near its origin…
From In the Land of Giants (Pg. 29):
At the end of the day, when the night cascades,
I sit in the dark and tossle my tangled beard,
not certain whether my rocking chair is squeaking
or the mice are planning something wild,
something sinister behind my fragile back.
In Muted Lines From Someone Else’s Memory, Berg shows us the importance of pondering the small things, the silly things, the serious things. We’re constantly shifting and changing every day, minute, second. These poems lean into the wind, into God (whatever or whomever that may be), with chin tucked and eyes open, and walk forward, bravely, beautifully.
From The Last Time I Wore a Necktie (Pg. 70):
…I am interested in reflections,
or more so, the distortions of my own…
Purchase Muted Lines From Someone Else's Memory HERE.
Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel FREIGHT. Visit his website at melbosworth.com