"Another endangered syntax descends." —from “Echolocations”
If ex-poet-laureate Billy Collins is correct in saying that poetry is “everyday moments caught in time,” then Jenny Molberg’s debut collection The Marvels of the Invisible, winner of 2014 Berkshire Prize, is exemplar. As if flipping through a family album, Molberg covers a personal history from birth to death, hospital and bible, family and landscape, hope and redemption.
In “Matryoshka,” a triptych of related poems, the layers of motherhood are peeled and revealed:
and find myself. Each mother
becomes my daughter and I become
each mother. I hold myself
in my hand. This is my secret-
I have seen how small
I can be. I will put
the wooden child back inside me.
And the woman inside me. And the woman
inside me. And the woman inside me.
With simple diction, repetition, and attention to detailMolberg allows the reader to “discover the mother inside the mother.” A child’s seemingly playful communion with wooden Russian dolls could be extrapolated into a call of motherhood, a call for equal rights, a demand for society to respect mothers. Minimal statements spark an array of vast ideas and inspiration.
In another triptych, “Voyager,” about Ann Druyan thinking of her future husband Carl Sagan, among other themes, Molberg turns romantic:
On the shore, I cup my hands
around my mouth, ocean churning at my feet
to ask the three white ships
in the distance how to love.
Whale-call of night, the sea’s dark,
each briny word an oyster on my tongue.
How many loves can live inside the body?
Who will I have to cast out?
Combining sea images with the infiniteness of outer space (“I hear my own heart a galaxy away.”), a great sweeping camera flows throughout the poem: Tibetan bowls, a Navajo chant, a Peruvian wedding song, a nursing mother, an old man with a dog and flowers. Images collage and crash together like the aforementioned waves, creating a kaleidoscope, almost Whitmanesque in proportion, swirling and powerful, switching point of view like a falling leaf, conveying hope and joy.
Although not afraid to occasionally touch upon darker themes, like the neighbor who slit his wife’s throat with scissors in “Propagation,” The Marvels of the Invisible is ultimately about a sense of place—geographically, emotionally, spiritually. The collection’s seed is family and the formation of memory, but it soars wide and far, collecting and aligning images into adept paintings that provoke optimism and rapture.
As a debut collection, Molberg’s The Marvels of the Invisible is a glass-half-full, not empty. Hopefully there will be many more collections of the same caliber. The final line from “Storm Coming” is a gem:
So we laugh, knowing we don’t have the time to love it.