June 10, 2010

Review by Mariana Dietl The House of Mae Rim by Mariano Zaro

THE HOUSE OF MAE RIM / LA CASE DE MAE RIM
by Mariano Zaro

Carayan Press
P.O. Box 31816
San Francisco, CA 94131-0816
ISBN 978-0-9712066-6-3
2009, 67 pp., $15.00
www.carayanpress.com

Mariano Zaro is like a master calligrapher. Everything his pen touches breathes, twirls and soars, becoming little glow-worms of words that stay with you long after you have stopped seeing them, like a well kept secret. They go deep. They are not easily erasable. They are written with permanent ink.

As in “At the Door,” for instance, one of my favorite poems and a perfect opening for the collection:

1.
At the door
a still shadow
the size of a coin.
I don’t know if it’s
a leaf
or an insect.
Suddenly
it opens its antennae.
Maybe that’s why
I came here—
to remember
astonishment.

Ante la puerta
un bulto quieto
del tamaño de una moneda.
No sé si es
una hoja
o un insecto.
De repente
extiende las antenas.
Quizá para eso
vine hasta aquí,
para recordar
el asombro.

Astonishment prevails in Mariano Zaro’s poetry. Once our eyes are opened and our pupils dilated by the insect’s antennae we are ready to explore the world with a microscope, or better still, we become the insect itself. For on certain instances it is easy to get the impression while reading this book that one has become one of those little creatures; all of a sudden we are observing and touching the world with the same delicacy and vulnerability and tininess as them. A poetic version of Gregor Samsa, I suppose, only slightly less terrifying (and more aesthetically pleasant, for Mariano Zaro’s insects are no cockroaches. They are slim crickets, sensuous butterflies, gracious worms and musty frogs!).

22.
I rest my head
against the night.
Crickets and frogs
riot, saturate
the air with mechanical
multiple sounds
that conquer fields
and silence the voices
that torment me.

Apoyo la cabeza
contra la noche.
Grillos y ranas
se amotinan, saturan
el aire con ruido
múltiple y mecánico,
conquistan campos,
acallan las voces
que me atormentan.

No detail is unimportant or wasted in the thirty-one poems that make up The House of Mae Rim/La Casa de Mae Rim. The flapping or opening of an insect’s wing, the sigh of a butterfly, the breeze emerging from a forgotten window—nothing is left out from these poems, no minutiae is insignificant; they build upon each other to create the moist tense ambience that Zaro makes us inhale, as if we were smelling and sweating the Asian heat together with him.

16.
We walk,
soaked in the middle
of the street and
childhood comes
in the smell
of wet clothes
and the rubbing
of pants,
heavy
on the knees.
Like then,
we are flooded
by life
and don’t pay attention
to clouds.

Caminamos
empapados en medio
de la calle y viene
la infancia
en el olor
de ropa mojada
y el roce
de los pantalones
que pesan
sobre las rodillas.
Como entonces,
estamos inundados
por la vida
y no prestamos atención
a las nubes.

The fluidity of the book is astounding. It doesn’t seem like a collection of poems; rather, the poems seem more like chapters of a brief novel (chapters with impressive lingering endings, one of the strongest aspects of Zaro’s poetry, I think), or different rooms and hidden quarters from the house of the enigmatic Mae Rim (whom I assume to be a woman from the sound of the name).

It feels almost as if the poet had written it all the same day, in one sitting, never leaving the trance-like stupor which probably originated them, first taking brief little notes in napkins from the local restaurant, then continuing while walking along rice fields, dripping leaves, crowded markets, doorless houses, pebbled corridors, and later on in solitude while laying over a hard mattress surrounded by the noise of crickets. All the while he is blending Spanish and English as an expert silk-worm who has been weaving its own bubble-nest for several millennia.

2.
I remove my shoes.
The bare foot
does not distinguish
inside
and outside,
the limits
of the house
the border
of lip
and dark fruit
when you bite.

Me quito los zapatos.
el pie descalzo
no distingue
dentro
y fuera,
los límites
de la casa,
la frontera
de labio
y fruta oscura
en tu mordida.

My favorite way to read the poems is continuously, the English poem followed by the Spanish version, as if it were part of the same poem. To me the combination adds to the rhythm and the tone, they complement each other, and the repetition of the words, even to those who are not Spanish speakers, can feel like a mantra.
Since most of them are very brief, they leave one with the need for more, and reading the Spanish version immediately after is like savoring a dessert or receiving an unexpected gift. The aftertaste is sweet and supple.
But then there is another way to read the poems, and it is alternating one line in English and one in Spanish. It is worth the try. The effect is of an interesting dialogue, a dialogue of two lonely people who don’t seem to realize they are saying the same thing.

3.
There are no walls.
No walls in kitchens
patios
bedrooms
except
this wall we have built,
you and I,
so we don’t see
our crown
of failure.

No hay muros.
No hay muros en las cocinas
los patios
las alcobas
excepto
este muro que hemos hecho,
tú y yo,
para no ver
el fracaso
que nos corona.

The poems are sensual and at the same time contained, erotic but not overtly so. They are metaphors of unspoken pasts and of hesitant beginnings, expressing the purity of loneliness and the shy melancholy of sensuality. Like a haiku version of Proust, if that notion is possible. As Sarah Maclay states in her prologue, “[The poems] are often haiku-like in tone and strategy and sometimes in brevity, they appear as sudden visitations: moments unfolding as oracles, experienced with a keen attention. Disarmingly straight-forward, they are haunting because of what they leave out, as well as what is drawn into them.”

The House of Mae Rim/ La Casa de Mae Rim is haunted by anxious light-headed whispers without place or name, whispers that seem like dreams and dreams that appear to us as unspoken words. Mariano Zaro’s poetry has to do with instants that linger and that can only be revealed to us by an acute and sensitive observer, an observer who also has to be a poet, a master poet as Mariano Zaro.

___________

Mariana Dietl is an Argentine-American writer with a major in International Relations from St. Andrew’s University in Argentina. She worked for Clarín, the leading newspaper in that country, and for the Argentine Consulate in Los Angeles, as Chief Communications Officer. She studied fiction writing at UCLA Extension and at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. Her novel, Confined (The Litchfield Review Press, 2009), was awarded The Litchfield Review’s Fiction Prize. Argentina: Se Me Hace Cuento, her first story collection, received third prize in UC Irvine’s Chicano/Latino Literary Award and is forthcoming in English from Ahadada Books, and other stories were finalists in contests from the U.S and abroad. Her work can be found in hotmetalpress.net, Literary Chaos, Tertulia, Luces & Sombras, The Externalist, The Litchfield Review, Tonopah Preview, Revista Baquiana and in Palabra. She is a member of PEN Center USA. Her website is www.marianadietl.com and she can be contacted at contact@marianadietl.com.