M.E. Silerman’s chapbook The Breath before Birds Fly, recently published by Emerge Literary Journal, brims with powerful imagery rooted in the casual detail. The poems stand connected through themes, images and ideas: there are fathers, both lost and found; birds floating into and out of our existence; the ever presence of water as both a destructive and constructive force, and perspectives on Judaism from all ages.
In the collection’s opening work, “Fumes,” Silverman juxtaposes the image of a “mosquito meals on my arm” with that of angry father being left by his family. This father pays for familial crimes from atop his outdoor throne: “On the busted porch,/Father crushes cans, smokes,/strikes.” On one hand the child narrator cares so little for their person, ignoring the bug, allowing it to dine, while on the other the father glares, surrounded by his destruction as he busts up the family with each smoke filled stare. Do we hate this man? Does the author? This is not the typical dad left us woe is me poem, but rather an expressive exploration of how and why two women became refuges from their own family unit.
Later, in “After You Left,” one cannot help but hear a father’s ghost staring at a homemade bridge, the plank kind built for small bodies to cross a stream into adventure: “I arrive on this plank-board bridge/built before you left.” Leaving, it seems, represents the problem—the character, perhaps an abandoned father or lonely soul, finds memory in the casual discovery. Sometimes people are gone, sometimes things are beyond repair, yet the tiny bridge can persevere, leaving haunting memories of love, joy, and passion. These memories will resurface in a “Ritual for Learning History,” where Silverman notes how a grown man can go gaga for matzah balls and a bottle of wine can allow even a strong man to spill soul in an effort to glorify his childhood. Whether true or false, we witness a visage of bygone days and ritual sacrifice as well as an excuse to eat scalding hot food in front of an adult child: “Father loves matzah balls more than me,/more than anyone. He doesn’t pause for them/ to cool, a child with a prize.” He gave back then, he can have now.
Such paternal themes reoccur, prompting the reader to consider not only the author’s relationship with their progenitor, but also their own. How do we feel about dear old dad? Is the drunken stumbling man hanging in the background of “Noah Shops for an Ark,” falling into a hardware store’s nail display, our patriarch: “Noah, nervous and sweaty,/crumples onto a small stack/of hollow display boxes?” Or do we have the dad that laments over the childhood, spilling their past while holding back a tear? Are we afraid to find out?
The very same ark Noah built finds a new home in “What I know about Jerusalem Rain,” this time in the form of a child’s dream: “head toward something solid,/toward the ark we imagine we built/when we were young,/ still stock-piling.” We want to know these dreams, to float and pass through such a prestigious city with the splendor of a young child. This yearning extends on in “Echo Locating,” where the dreams that once filled the ark are expressed in the open search for self. It is here that Silverman expresses man’s innate desire to both find and understand the self, intuitively placing the product of said exploration into the hands of an unseen force that emanates both from and back toward us. We live in the echo of our perception, and Silverman’s words cement this fact.