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Lorette C. Luzajic’s Pretty Time Machine reviewed by Rennie Halstead

Pretty

Pretty Time Machine                         Lorette C. Luzajic                Mixed Up Media   2020

Lorette C. Luzajic is perhaps best known as the editor and owner of The Ekphrastic Review. An accomplished artist and poet in her own right, Lorette’s first collection has been published recently by Mixed Up Media. The collection contains 110 ekphrastic prose poems characterised by an understanding of the experience of love, suffering, tragedy and loss.

In Disappointment, ( after Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1919) Lorette admires the beauty and dreamy mood of water lilies, shrouded by morning’s last weight. She recalls hearing that Monet dusted his water lilies every day at dawn, removing the dust that blew in from the unmade road outside. She sees this as an act of artistic commitment, this obsession against nature interfering with nature until:

The spell snapped like first love, shattered, about learning about the maid.

How:

Claude hired a cleaning lady to tend to his passions, someone to dust and wipe his water flowers before he painted them. Another arrow through the heart of poetry.

The Glass Swan (after The Old Courtesan by Auguste Rodin, 1885) puts the woman from Rodin’s sculpture in her apartment, undressing, unaware that she is witnessed. Lorette describes her nakedness and lack of awareness with great sympathy:

Something about her nakedness, unguarded, about her not knowing, makes your eyes well up. She has become forgetful, and will not notice the curtain is open until tonight when she seeks fresh air in her sleep. Her breasts are beautiful, for all their sadness.

It is the humanity of Lorette’s view that captures the attention, and the essence of Rodin’s sculpture. The old courtesan is still a woman to be treated with warmth and respect.

There is something like glass in the thin hips and elongated gestures of the dancer’s arms. It catches you then, suddenly, as stark and as naked as she is: we will all get old, those of us who are lucky enough.

In a change of mood, Lorette has a number of poems relating to the problems of drug use. I found Clean (after Erased de Kooning, from a drawing by Robert Rauschenberg, 1953) a sensitive and moving exploration of addiction. Lorette draws us into the world of the recovering addict with great skill, so that the reader experiences life in the aftermath of a death from a drugs overdose.

The narrator has recently lost her addict partner and has moved to the cottage with her brother-in-law. Together they try to come to terms with their grief and fight their own addiction, to get clean.

The poem opens:

The little white house was haunted, but we’d expected as much. The wounds were still fresh. We’d moved to put death behind us, but the past is always with you. Still, the house was spare and sweet and the yard was cheerful with tulips.

The grief is ever-present, and in her grief the narrator clings to the brother for comfort:

I was crazy and the only thing that held my grief at bay was you. I wouldn’t have loved you at all if he hadn’t begged us to look after each other.

There is hope to come out of the death and grieving but the brother is unable to maintain his abstinence:

one night, after a long and peaceful while, I returned home and found you pacing the yard. Your heart was beating wildly and your eyes were wide and crazed. I saw him today, you told me. I knew before you said another word that you had fallen.

The narrator describes the descent into addiction:

I had seen it all before [… ] My life was a nightmare of spies and hospitals.

The hospital telephones:

I stood in silence inside that little white house, my heart empty, eroded, clean. Just like the two men I loved most in the world, erased by methamphetamine.

The devastation felt by the narrator is total:

It would be a long, long time before I would feel anything again, maybe never. I saw the years stretch out ahead of me like rain.

Another theme running through the collection is the death of Lorette’s father, to whom the collection is dedicated. Just Before It Rained (after When the Moon is on the Hill by Mark O’Brien, 2015) focuses on an intimate moment with great sensitivity. A couple, presumably a father and daughter, pull over to look at the map and a sliver of moon:

I’d never seen that kind of ice chip moon in summer. The air was low and near, close to the truck [… ] We had pulled over to figure out where we’d gone wrong […] but your attention was outside the window.

The father gets out of the truck and goes for a walk:

After a long time, you came back and told me what I already knew, but had to hear from you. There’s no cure this time, you told me […] There was a kind of detached relief in your voice.

The sky closes in. There are no blues like these ones, the book’s last pages.

Falling (after Silver Birches by Pat Moffatt, 2004) has a different tone. The poem focuses on the narrator’s experience of love:

There were no witnesses to what happened inside of me while we walked through the ravine woods, stopping in a clearing to kiss hungrily.

The poem is full of desire:

I pawed at you with a hunger I’d forgotten, if I’d known it at all […] You were awkward and strange, and how you took my mouth was almost desperate and so beautiful.

The narrator finds her reserve torn down, giving herself to the moment:

I couldn’t control the space between me and another. I went with the tides, I had no choice, and fall’s red sunset soaked the forest where we embraced […] I could not know what was ahead, and didn’t care. The softening had already been done.

A similar look at the nature of love and passion occurs in the short but striking You Took Me Into The Woods (Woods #4, Kim Dorland, 2008) where the first person narrator describes how autumn had just that day spun down to gold.

She is kissed passionately, leaving the ravine: with bruised lips and straps to adjust, and somehow more innocent than I had ever been.

I was uncertain about reviewing a collection of prose poems. The concept of the prose poem is so slippery, with one person’s prose poem being another one’s prose, and complaints about lack of rhythm or “poetic” language. This volume has memorable prose poems because the style Lorette chooses allows her to tell her stories in a smooth flowing way that engages the reader throughout. Space prevents me looking in detail at other memorable poems that I found really engaging. There is love as well as loss in these poems, and Lorette presents both to us vividly in this memorable. collection

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Rennie Halstead writes reviews, poetry, flash fiction and short stories.

 

           

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