Body Falling, Sunday Morning
by Susana H. Case
Paperback, 34 pages, $12.00
Milk and Cake Press, 2019
Review by Joseph Zaccardi
Every day, the shoe factory and then,
one day, inevitably, the shotgun.
With these startling first lines from the first poem, “No Sign of Activity,” from Susana H. Case’s, Body Falling, Sunday Morning, the reader begins a journey filled with mystery and revelation; from the cover art, whose background of newsprint is set in reversed type, that is, light color text on a dark gray pallet, to Frances Glessner Lee’s photos taken of her crime-scene dioramas, reproduced here in black-and-white, from the originals done in color. This stark rendering, along with the text of the poems, adds a cinéma vérité feel to unveil truth and highlight the horror of murder, either because of passion or revenge or greed.
Case gives voice to Glessner Lee’s dollhouse-sized dioramas, created by her in the 1940s and 50s. Although the crimes depicted were composites of actual cases, the characters and decorations of the dioramas’ interiors were Glessner Lee’s invention; she disclosed the dark side of domesticity and its potentially deleterious effects––many victims were women led astray from the cocoon-like security of the home––by men, misfortune, or by their low stations in life.
In this collection, Susana H. Case, the poet, shows her mastery of the ekphrastic poetic form when she connects the extraordinary with the ordinary; she redefines perceptions with linguistic agility. Few contemporary poets of ekphrastic poetry, in my opinion, can so effectively accomplish such artistry. It would not be accurate to label her poetry, and Frances Glessner Lee’s dioramas, merely as artwork paired with words, for the poems in Body Falling, Sunday Morning are seamlessly controlled, and, because of Case’s attention to detail, the reader can envision the subtle nuances in the scenes that ask: is this murder, suicide, or accident? Case employs metronymy and drumroll by her deftly chosen words and phrases to place us at the center of crime scenes, and guides us through the case study of the murdered, and fingers those suspected of murder: from the poem “Body in the Closet,” she writes: Her neck is slashed…. // female sexuality / begets violence; the hooker / always gets it in the end. And this from “End of the Affair,” He bent over and shot himself / his mistress insists…. No matter that the gun’s not under him…. This is not poetry for the faint of heart, one must stand awake, eye on the photographic images, ear attuned to the sound and significance of the words on the page, for they will not stay still; readers may find themselves turning back pages to re-read and re-view what has transpired. Where is the truth, one may ask; you the reader become the chief inspector and coroner, perpetrator and victim.
Case goes a step further in her placement of the black-and-white photos, assembling her poems in six scenes, each scene foreshadowed by one of Glessner Lee’s dioramas. The poems explore in detail not only the dead bodies, but also the décor of the middle class and the ne’er-do-well; there are the dotted curtains and floral wallpapers, the spill of dark blood on carpets and bed sheets, a woman lying on the floor with a knife in her body. Here’s four lines from the poem “Bite Marks,” A pervert, one she knows / has bitten up her torso and legs… She’s cut, mis-loved, teenager / in ballet shoes, knife in gut.
It is the mission of the poet to find the primitive understory and bring to life, with quiet force, the victims who suffered this fate. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but words, especially in the hands of a poet with the acuity of this poet, resurrects the deceased imagistically to reveal their story. She further explores the relationship of the real world to its encapsulation in rooms (stanzas) via the dioramas, and effectively melds the distinction between the actual and the perceived.
What we have here is a poet who shares her heightened appreciation of art, for her language underscores the most consequential subject matter; in the last line, in the last poem, “Wallpaper with Fish,” she shows us the devastation in its summation:
You don’t know what to think.
Joseph Zaccardi served as Marin County, CA poet laureate (2013-2015), and during his tenure published and edited Changing Harm to Harmony: Bullies & Bystanders Project. He is the author of five books poetry, the latest being The Weight of Bodily Touches, from Kelsay Books. His poems have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Poet Lore, Poetry East, Spillway, Atlanta Review, Rattle, and elsewhere. www.josephzaccardi.com
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