by Lisa Houlihan Stice, poet/Marine spouse
Marianne Szlyk’s newest poetry collection, On the Other Side of the Window, takes the reader on a road trip through city and suburban landscapes. Sometimes reflective, sometimes speculative, the poems are often influenced by natural connections to the environments’ elements that surround the speaker and by the less familiar elements of those landscapes.
As a military spouse who has traveled several times from coast to coast, and who has lived in places of great contrast, I felt a kindredness to the way in which Szlyk interacts with her various landscapes that are often experienced through the figurative “window” of an outsider-perspective or through the literal window of a vehicle.
The opening section, “Looking out at Earth,” is largely speculative. The whole earth at times is an unrecognizable “other”: “I could be on Bradbury’s Venus the sweltering day / when the sizzling rain pauses, but I am on Earth” (“Easter 2116” in reference to Ray Bradbury’s short story “All Summer in a Day”). Some poems, like “Crepe Myrtle in East Rockville,” point out a more immediate blurring of location. The speaker observes, “These trees never grew this far north before. Yet now / they color my neighborhood when roses and lilies wilt,” and goes on to speculate what other foreign plants might later come to Rockville. While I have always associated crepe myrtle with the U.S. Southeast, it isn’t native of that region either. Crepe myrtle has moved many times, originating in Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia. It is a transplant, out of place yet thriving, and becoming less of a curiosity as the poem comes to a close.
I couldn’t help but relate to that crepe myrtle. Uprooted. Unfamiliar. Unsure if roots will take to new soil.
In the next section “Nature on the Other Side of the Glass,” the speaker leaves her New England home and travels to North Carolina. She might as well be on Bradbury’s Venus in “Birch Trees in North Carolina” as she surveys this new environment:
I do not recognize other trees,
but I know the birch.
Its peeled bark is snow
clinging to spring.
Its leaves are wind chimes.
Its roots clutch at the stone wall
between long-gone pasture
This is not a description of the birch of North Carolina; this is a memory of the birch of home. When I moved to North Carolina from the Southwest, I had the same reaction when seeing yucca mixed in among unfamiliar shrubs and trees. Even three years later, when I walk my dog, I think of my parents’ home in Henderson, Nevada and the Carlsbad, California walks my dog and I used to take. Memory becomes stronger than physical location.
No matter how much some people try to separate themselves from the natural world, humans are undeniably as natural as crepe myrtle and birch trees. And no matter how some would like to pretend the earth is not changing rapidly, new plant species are introduced, rivers and oceans are reshaped, regions are looking more and more like each other. And no matter how some people would like to enforce borders, people are transplanted and transplanted again and again.
Szlyk, Marianne. On the Other Side of the Window (Pski’s Porch, July 2018).
About the Author:
Marianne Szlyk is a professor at Montgomery College and the editor of The Song Is… Her second chapbook, I Dream of Empathy, was published by Flutter Press, and her first, Listening to Electric Cambodia, Looking Up at Trees of Heaven, is available online at Kind of a Hurricane Press. Recently she was artist in residence at The Wild Word. Other poems have appeared at Cacti Fur, bird’s thumb, of/with, The Ekphrastic Review, Solidago, Figroot Press, and other print & online venues.
About the Reviewer:
Lisa Houlihan Stice is a poet/mother/military spouse, the author of two poetry collections: Permanent Change of Station (Middle West Press, 2018) and Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016), and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project, as an associate poetry editor with 1932 Quarterly, and as a contributor for The Military Spouse Book Review. She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) and an MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage. While it is difficult to say where home is, she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog.
You can read some of Lisa’s most recently-published poems here: “Counting the Casualties” in The Military Review, “Ophelia Among the Reeds” in The Ekphrastic Review, and two poems in Interstice Poetry Journal. She has poetry forthcoming in The Sea Letter, 8 Poems, and Kallisto Gaia Press. Follow her web site to keep up!