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Steady, My Gaze Paperback – February 22, 2011
The Amazon Book Review
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Attuned to the sensual and the sacred, Marie-Elizabeth Mali is engaged in "the pursuit of some ground to call home." A restless traveler of the landscapes of self and the self s origins, Mali is always a seeker reminding us to "Praise this beautiful, terrible world where we are opened / and crushed." --Kim Addonizio
Steady, My Gaze is a book we can open anywhere go ahead, do it now and discover how young poetry still is, how much still remains to be savored. You ll want to read it more than once. "Forgetfulness is ecstasy s cousin." --Brendan Constantine
About the Author
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Mali takes us through a meditation experience and finds comparisons of the disappearing fears she encounters not unlike her perception of her marriage. She ably mixes philosophy and religions and memories with bullet holes of rape and death and earthy reconstructions of events most would avoid. And somewhere in all of this mixture of poems is a glimpse of Marie-Elizabeth Mali, striking out at intruders who would discourage her participation in life at its fullest. She is able to look at the ambiguities of living and settle them into moments of observed agony and passion and fling them back at us, daring us to participate in her sorcery. An example of her gifts:
I'm sorry I didn't spend more time
with your body. I'm sorry not to have stripped
and washed you myself, not to have oiled
your sunken face and chest, your flat feet,
your swelled belly and catheterized penis
before you went off to the crematorium.
I had but a few minutes to hold your hand,
with the crooked middle finger I share, and feel
the air, no longer passing through you, shimmer.
Two large men marched in, bundled you
in a bag. They carried you out, handing me
the navy silk pajamas I gave you for your last birthday.
Damn efficiency. You whisked out on a stretcher,
me left pressing your pajamas to my face.
Marie-Elizabeth Mali is bold about life, bold about death, bold about passion and exhilaration, and even bolder in calling our attention to this time we call our lives. She writes these poems simply, yet eloquently, serving them to us as communion, Eucharist, or some other extension of grace. Without a written resume she allows us to know as much as is necessary from a very womanly shaman. A complete view is on Poets and Artists. Grady Harp, October 11
In the book's five years of marriage cycle, for example, the complexities of married life are revealed, and how close contact with another, in this case, the husband, deepens the speaker's gaze and helps her awaken. That particular marriage provokes a fair amount of anxiety for the speaker, as it does for anyone who's ever been married. Love, when it shows up, is a great healer.
I love how the magnanimous "let it be" is immediately subverted in the next line in "Second Year of Marriage." "Later, we fight..." So true. These contradictions lie at the heart of what it means to be human and it's a pleasure to discover this in these poems. We are a bundle of contradictions, Mali tells us, and this is where true compassion and magnanimity arise.
So what is at the heart of Mali's spiritual quest in STEADY MY GAZE, the Tao of Mali? She looks at life as best she can to find some deeper truth that is more than a conglomeration of her likes and dislikes. And just like Toni Morrison explores the complexities of identity in The Bluest Eye, these poems allude to how we often discover ourselves amidst life's woundings. The title poem is an ekphrastic in the voice of Frida Kahlo, inspired by her painting, "The Little Deer," in which her face appears on the body of a deer pierced by nine arrows. The steadiness of her gaze within that wounding inspired the book's title.
As a clinical social worker, I can identify with the weariness that comes with all that need showing up in the therapist's office. It's hard not to take the aches of others inside as Mali points out in "Volunteering with Rescue Workers at the Javits Center." This kind of writing may be an antidote to that kind of weariness.