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The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception

Although she has published two books prior, I’d never read Martha Silano’s work, but she’s earned a new fan in me after reading this, her latest volume. Chosen by Campbell McGrath for the 2010 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception definitely deserves such an honor. Buy it, and you’ll have a constantly surprising little treasure in your collection to return to often.

Although she has published two books prior, I’d never read Martha Silano’s work, but she’s earned a new fan in me after reading this, her latest volume. Chosen by Campbell McGrath for the 2010 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception definitely deserves such an honor. Buy it, and you’ll have a constantly surprising little treasure in your collection to return to often.

These poems are quirky and playful, yet serious and impactful on several levels.

The book begins with a section titled “What I Will Tell the Aliens,” which—of course—features poems exploring “otherworld” encounters. It is here where we’re first introduced to Silano’s exceptional ear for conversational dialect:

                                                …It’s like Mardi Gras threw up
in my den, Santiago’s saying, my diseased mouth propped open

while he scrapes; but that’s nothing. My dad? He worked, you know,
in commercial wiring. So, this one time, he goes touch that and I’m like

is it hot? And he’s all of course not, no, no, go ahead. So I touch it
and it knocks me out. Know what he says? Don’t trust nobody.

We’re also introduced to wonderful moments of play with language, rhythm and sound, as in the poem “Her Panel,” which calls to mind works such as Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary:

is a smooth-legged diction vixen
is go-go boored
Boolean

is a tribute to the demystified domestic
to the mystic
to the frisky

this many-gendered-splendor investigation
is a play date collaboration
is a get-me-a-glass-of-water praline

After this section, the presence of aliens seems to disappear, which leaves the reader wondering for a while how the aliens fit in with conception and bearing and raising children, religion, motherhood. They do reappear, at the end of the third section, which might be a little too “late”; however, with that reappearance, connections among the poems seem to take shape, and that is the only real hiccup in the book.

These poems are searching for our place in the universe, for explanation. And they go to God, to aliens, to children, to the earth/nature for enlightenment; Silano’s poems are not discriminatory. They seem to take the “awe” away from prayer and religion in order to ground it in the immediately real, the more understandable—but still reverent:

I believe in the dish in the sink
not bickering about the dish in the sink
though I believe the creator

of the mess in the living room
cleans up the mess in the living room
sucks up cracker pizza potpie peanut popcorn

and I believe in the earth which also ends up on the rug
which must also be vacuumed up as I acknowledge
our blessings running water not teeming with toxins

At times, The Little Room of the Immaculate Conception is nearly laugh-out-loud funny:

I Wanted to Be Hip

but with a kid strapped into the stroller
my size 38EE breasts my husband

accidentally hi there mammary glands
but with not knowing which belt

black with silver studs or multi-colored sash
which sandals wedge or flip-flop

then which flip-flop beaded or bangled
instead I got escorted to the elevator for the un-hip

child on each hip for the totally un-tuned-in

“It’s All Gravy,” Salinas writes, and God is the cook,

a benevolent meddling like the hand
that stirs and stirs as the liquid steams
obvious and simple everything and nothing
my gravy your gravy our gravy the cosmological constant’s

glutinous gravy

As a totality, the poems in The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception offer no clear existential answers or explanations—how could they?—but what they do offer readers is an evident appreciation for the here-and-now: “and this is just what happens.” This book is a unique and delightful collection, a promise of surprises.

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