REVIEW: Belladonna* Chaplet Series // Eleni Sikelianos


(This is part of a series of reviews on titles from Belladonna*’s chaplet series, many of which are now available as free PDFs)

by Heather Brown

There is my father
in the doorway. What is he

doing there?
He stands. He happens

again and again. I happen
to be here, where my father is

tonight, standing in the door-
way. I happen to be trying to fit him in

to the size of this room.

In her film-script/poem/memoir The Book of Jon, an excerpt of which Belladonna Books has put into one of their downloadable chaplets, Eleni Sikelianos has created a visual time stamp that retraces the lines of her father’s life and presence and records the impressions he has left on her. In the process, her commentary grows to include the way humans have left their stamp on the earth and thus lost track of the earth itself. In this selection, it may be easier for the reader than for the poet to tell where she ends and her father begins. She begins by addressing her father as “you,” in an epistolary fashion, then moves—removes—to the third person and refers to him as Jon in the section entitled “Notes Towards a Film About My Father (Jon).” This section is part script/part prose, but is broken by the slashes that normally indicate line breaks in poetry. Throughout this section, Sikelianos spotlights single shots, makes bracketed notes, and sets scenes apart to recreate her experience of her father. This is a form (or merging of forms) that Sikelianos develops even further in her book, You, Animal, Machine, a scrapbook-memoir-essay from Coffeehouse Press, about her grandmother Melena, who worked as burlesque dancer in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Following the script notes section about Jon, more fully-formed poems draw all the previous threads together into a braided, cohesive direction that propels both reader and writer through a final return to pages of directive prose that zooms beyond both the poet and the father into

Houses and houses and houses and houses. Houses and houses and houses and a pool. Then the bigger buildings rise up out of the Earth’s surface at the radiating axis of the city. Cars move around, people inside them. (Watch) from the window as the city changes from a sea of houses laid out in sloppy grids, splattered across the valley, creeping into the mountains, falling off right into the sea. (But there is no sea here.)

Through these scenes of the larger world, Sikelianos—now more deliberately and confidently—flies parallel at 30,000 feet to the earlier father-daughter narrative. She seems to be commenting on the ways we are marked, the ways we mark each other and the world. Her final images call forth the desolations of privilege, once we remove ourselves from it to more plainly understand the impositions and superimpositions that we visit upon one another and our environments.

Heather Brown received her MFA in poetry from Oregon State University. She lives and writes in Portland, Ore. and works for Powell’s Books, Inc.

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