Wednesday, December 19, 2018



< Periodic Earth > by Donna Fleischer
(Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press, Colorado, 2016)

T. S. Eliot famously averred “People can’t take too much reality”. Donna Fleischer’s poems in < Periodic Earth > gently and insistently point us the way to reality so that we can stop being afraid of it: a world of explored feeling. This tour de force consists of one 20-page poem in fourteen sections entitled, “This Mineral World” capped by a stand-alone poem entitled, “The Years”.  Though of chapbook size, the sweep of this book is wide and deep, covering as it does the course of the speaker’s life journey. The book tracks inchoate beginnings in a childhood wrenched by loss of an immigrant grandmother (herself in foreign exile with “a body of startling lakes and pine trees”) through key experiences of self-exile, connection, love, loss, exploration, reconnection, grief, and ultimate redemption, all covering the transforming years of youth and mid-life. The traveler into these earthly depths is a speaking body and soul, addressing an ever-widening “you”, a you who is at one and the same time a first love, love itself, some higher self within the self, and ultimately, the reader.

One poem flows into the next in this collection forming a narrative through what one might call a web of struggling images, vivid concrete images that interrelate with each other, bodying forth the themes. You will find these poems chockablock with the sea, the sky, the seals, the icy lava, hands, mouths, bruises, the hyacinth, and the dandelion seed. Physical imagery is so appropriate here since one of the stated goals of the speaker is: “I want to write myself back into my body/back to someone I call you”. The crux of the story is self-searching across the experience of lovers coming together in tentative relation destroyed by the violence of the world and violent inner confusions that drive them apart. Reunion follows, but so does further loss. Redemption comes with time and openness to new love and new healing between people and within the self, signaled by the changing imagery. 

I marvel at this poet’s ability to make meaning on so many levels with the seemingly simple elements revisited over and over in a journey through trauma. The only guidepost: “the only way to hold on to self/was through the insistence of pain”.  Yet the enforced separations within and without are not just trauma of one individual biography. The breaking up of the lovers points to the fear and domination endemic to the whole culture that surrounds them. This poem is also dealing with rejection and violent suppression inherent in our society and how it gets internalized inside a person who doesn’t fit the culture’s conventions and who is thereby rejected as alien, suffering the “breaking and entering our lives/ shame and feelings wasting like garbage.” Her search for freedom is within the context of the social upheavals and human rights struggles of the sixties and seventies touched upon as backdrop.

Though chance brings the young lovers together in later young adulthood, stubborn complexities of damage and change burgeon to separate them again. “I am alone the first time I ever saw her not seeing me comes back”. I am reminded of Sappho’s sensitive language of eternal sorrow and devastation gazing after the beloved lost to her.

A fragile and beautiful hope in the poem, “The Years” is hard won and comes only after facing and grappling with the abandonment and trauma of an earlier time. We sense all this is one material of human existence, as mysterious as it is our common lot. We feel this soul is strengthened through having examined the past and wrested back parts of herself that have been alienated from her in long exile and stubborn journey back to the joys of first things. A new peace cradles her in a new relationship in “The Years“, “sky, dandelion/seed heads float by the grain of years, hold us in/ this before….” 

The heart’s concrete language has triumphed, also. That’s how this book draws the reader in and does not let her go until the last word is spoken. That’s also why in countless readings, one never gets to the bottom of this book: It is a forged seamless unity, the speaker’s and the reader’s own territory of living imagination.


Marilyn Johnston is the author of two collections of poetry, Weight of the Angel and Silk Fist Songs (Antrim House Books). Her chapbook, Against Disappearance, won Finalist for the 2001 Poetry Prize from Redgreene Press. Her work has received six Pushcart Prize nominations and has appeared in many journals, including South Carolina Review, Worcester Review, and Poet Lore. She co-founded and directs the Wintonbury Poetry Series for the Bloomfield Public Library, Bloomfield, CT.