Invisible SisterBy Jeffrey Ethan Lee Many Mountains Moving Press 2004 #420 22nd Street, Boulder, CO 80302. $11.95
Review by Thaddeus Rutkowski
In his poetry, Jeffrey Ethan Lee gives order to a series of instinctive associations through a conscious command of language. By this method, he creates a pointillist picture of American life as lived by someone who is not an ordinary American.
In the first part of Invisible Sister, called "Prologues," Lee offers a graceful account of thorny childhood experience, beginning with a tour of an elementary school. Here, we are reminded of behavior that too often is ignored or kept hidden: cruelty to animals, meanness toward sexually aware girls, mockery of short people. Yet, the speaker finds someone he can communicate with, even appreciate:
the 2nd grade girl only I would like
because I couldn't see her "cooties,"
and she couldn't see my color
As the prologues come to a close, the speaker travels through a dream of debasement (at the hands of a cop), eventually rising Dante-like to a sort of peak, where he (the speaker) experiences a vision of pure light, a feeling of euphoria, an image of paradise.
The second part of the book consists of the long poem "Invisible Sister." This is the heart of the work, and while it is challenging in its complexity, it will reward any reader who has ever struggled for communion with another person. Several segments are written in a form that Lee calls the "dialogic lyric"--essentially a conversational verse form. The two sides of the conversation are placed next to each other on the page, so it is possible to read one statement at a time, or to read across both statements to arrive at a new, mingled speech. The effect is eerie, yet powerful:
she wanted to be of the race
as though beauty itself could be
a raceless race
this poisoned place
I know it's
heaven to him --
but what if
Like the first part, the second ends in an upward movement, but this time the action is more earthly. And the focus has shifted to the invisible sister herself, who emerges from her own journey reborn, without shame, with an "ember light" in her eyes.
First published in Small Press Review.