J. Mae Barizo

Four Way Books, 2015

The Cumulus Effect, J. Mae Barizo’s debut collection, is an experiment in translating the uncontainability of the mind. Though physically enclosed within the body, the mind wanders beyond its confines. These poems are distilled encounters of this wandering; images act like windows on a conveyor belt:

A blur of wing. A ring from another
city. A street too hot for breathing.
A kiss
at the elbow makes a sound like
too much to remember.

The sparseness inevitably puts pressure on every image, every sound. For the most part, Barizo delivers; the meticulousness of these poems, which vary in shape and size, demonstrates the poet’s dexterity.

The Cumulus Effect abandons a traditional temporality in favor of dream states and vignettes, organized largely by geographic location; its six poem-sections include “New York,” “Berlin,” “St. Petersburg,” and “Afrika.” These places, and the poems, are often constructed of fleeting images as well as a kind of absence, or distance, from the places, people, and images that inhabit the text. In “New York,” the poet suggests memory as a “type of expiration.” This is a chief concern of the collection as a whole, and throughout, Barizo uses sentences as a mechanism of, and method for, traveling through memory, while simultaneously erasing it. As is suggested in “Berlin,” we sense the speaker operates across “The time zone the dream was in. Continual comings and goings…”

Within each coming and going, much attention is paid to sound; the speaker of these poems cannot separate it from the act of remembering: “It bled between the fingers, the memory of what we longed for. / And the music still. And the sun.” Barizo’s music is a product of fluidity of both sound and movement, and through this complex crafting the poet captures essential human experiences with striking simplicity and elegance: “Press your ear against the shoreline, my restless / and let us love warily, remembering nothing.” With this case study in memory, this catalogue of forgetting, Barizo provides a gentle reminder of the necessity of our capacity to dream, of mindfulness that perhaps daylight is merely an “imaginary opening” into the mind.