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Mark Murphy reviews The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams – Mary Mackey

JAGUARS_cvr-F-REVThe Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams Mary Mackey
Marsh Hawk Press

Mary Mackey not only maintains a passionate and lyrical tone throughout her New and Selected Poems (which is a pleasure to read) but refreshingly achieves it without the use of a single comma or full stop. At times joyful and gloomy/even despairing, but most of all inspiring and aspiring, this is the authentic story of a life lived to the absolute maximum. As a lifelong feminist sympathizer and eco-sympathizer myself, I could not have been more pleased than to see these issues being tackled head-on with such grace, outrage and ardent awareness. The more I read, the more I liked it, and the more I identified with her lamentations, and celebrations… ‘your lips move/like wings/across the breasts/of the hills…’ Both light and dark, heavy and weightless, the easy tonality is at once arresting and compelling as we commune with the Amazon’s tribal ghosts…

lost upriver   forever
lost in the burning world

of the ever-diminishing rainforest. A painful and powerful testament to ‘the folly of man,’ speeding headlong towards environmental ruin… ‘soon only the oldest of us could remember/the world before the great extinction…’ However, by no means preachy, these poems are jewels of compassion… ‘look how quickly/we can fall/into darkness…’ Again, there is both delight and disappointment at the tender heart of her poetry…

we are two birds
gliding through an empty sky
lost   uncertain
filled with unreasonable joy

There is also laughter and hope here. Despite separation and betrayal, despite deforestation and war, and even genocide, the human spirit might yet prevail…

lovers
samba
all night long
and new-born babies
dream of nothing
but samba
even the dead
samba
into the ground
and samba
back out
leaving
empty spaces
where the
samba
goes on doing
its own
samba forever

This is brave and vibrant poetry, not only addressing gender and ecological issues but the nature of love (and other major disasters) as well as the idea of infinity which she admits with her wry humour still intact… ‘is impossible to grasp even over a plate of fried potatoes.’ More seriously, she declares… ‘when there are an infinite number of worlds anything can happen.’ Speaking of ‘Cyntherea’ (goddess and guardian of the deep) she delivers perhaps the most heartfelt plea in the whole book…

She has picked the brains
of all the philosophers who ever drowned
looking for the causes of human folly…

and then…

We stand on your beaches
calling you up
but you no longer appear…

as if to remind us of our selfish and deliberate disregard for the entire marine environment. We can only speculate how Cyntherea will reek her revenge and how it all might end. Likening her own passion to an earthquake, she confidently writes… ‘I would destroy everything/for you.’ And then, revealing her devotion to Mother Nature once again, she ironically sets out her stall declaring… ‘by nightfall/we will have cleared this land/of everything alive/and begun to feast/on each other.’ Nevertheless, her humanity is our guiding light throughout… ‘above this tangled canopy of doomed trees/the clouds are writing desperately important messages…’ Moreover, there is an urgency and immediacy in her imagery as when she meets the last six surviving speakers of Arikapú, referring to herself and her lover as ‘thieves’ who had cut out their tongues… ‘our words harsh and incomprehensible/as the ringing of axes.’

One can’t help but be impressed by her dynamic range, the fluidity of her lines and the strength of her convictions. If these poems hadn’t already been written, they would be waiting for someone to write them down, not only for us to enjoy but as a gift to future generations. Reading this poet for the first time is like imbibing an unexpected potion of milk and honey. Each sip tantalizing the taste buds, enticing you to read on until there’s nothing left except the desire for more. This is a book I will return to again and again for its wisdom, its humility and its irrepressible spirit. Read it and you will not be disappointed except for the fact that it must eventually end. I can’t recommend it enough.

Without poets like Mary Mackey our lives would be poorer indeed.
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Mark A. Murphy is the editor of online journal, POETiCA REViEW. His poetry has appeared in over 250 magazines in print and online. He is the author of 6 full-length collections including The Ontological Constant due out in June, 2020 in a bi-lingual German/English edition from Moloko Print in Germany.

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