Review by Robin H. Lysne
EVERY SEED OF THE POMEGRANATE
by David Sullivan
P.O. Box 7887
Huntington Beach, CA 92615-7887
2012, 118 pp., $16.00
David Allen Sullivan’s new book, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, uncovers the war in Iraq like a wound needing air to heal. We are taken into the conflict through haiku-like stanzas, the form steadying the reader in a rhythm of walking through events such as Abu Ghraib through soldiers’ eyes, through prisoners’ eyes, and through the eyes of angels and other unseen forces giving comfort to the wounded and dying. This is a brave move on Sullivan’s part, as he is willing to encompass other realms besides this well-trodden one that we live in. The voices are further clarified by the layout of the book which Sullivan divides into three formats: left for the American voices, the center for the Angels and otherworldly voices, and right for the Iraqi voices. This action of dividing the voices fascinated me: He did not favor the American voices being on the “right” and the Iraqi voices being on the “left” as one might expect. This is shrewd move on his part, as he is challenging the “rightness” of the American voice and perspective, though subtly, throughout the book. To me, as an author who has written books on ritual, it almost seems a ritual move. He is declaring the equality of the Iraqi voice by offering it on the right, the direction of making or creating, binding or sending of energy. The left is the direction of undoing, unmaking, or releasing.
But as much as Seeds of the Pomegranate engages the Iraq war, it does not just note the horrors of war and its consequences; it also holds it in question. This war clearly haunts Sullivan. In the first poem he writes:
Someone draws circles
on my back inside my dreams
that keep widening.
Who am I to write
these words? Who are you to turn
from these words and rest?
He challenges the reader to take in these accounts as part of a greater global community, but he is also questioning his own justification for being haunted by the war and its images as a man who has not fought himself. As a woman, I have questioned the same thing in my anti-war philosophy and activism. When soldiers returned from Vietnam, I was in college, and while I was compassionate towards them, I found myself realizing that these fellow students had such a horrible experience that they could not discuss it, even when asked to do so with sincere interest. One roommate who had fallen in love with a soldier who had been in a prisoner of war camp for seven years found herself at a loss for what to do with him as he woke night after night in terror. She and I were both left feeling as though our voices on the matter were woefully uninformed and lacked any real context for their experience. As he discusses in the introduction, Sullivan worked through this “odd person out” feeling by talking with those vets and finally becoming encouraged.
He weaves the book title around and around. Using the Middle Eastern fruit as a symbol, the pomegranate in this book comes from an old Arabic saying: “Every seed of the pomegranate must be eaten/ since you can’t tell which come from Paradise.” A reporter says later in the same poem:
… and placing them on
outstretched tongues one by one—
ritual that fed
us like a blessing.
I bit the liquid jewel,
sorrows broke open.
The poet’s compassion for both sides of the conflict comes thundering through, as this poem fragment illustrates.
Sullivan uses interviews of many of those who fought and reported on the war. In one poem he quotes a general: “If the public saw// images like that/ they wouldn’t tolerate it;/ there’d be no more wars.” Well-researched with interviews, news articles, and first person accounts, Sullivan takes his imagination into the war to speak from the perspectives of both the dead and the living. He engages the women’s voices as well as the men’s: “My prayers are bent back/ on themselves. What good comes from/ tearing up our lives?” As women are often left out of the conversation of war, it is a good thing that he brings their voices in.
In “The Black Camel,” he intertwines the voices of two soldiers and the angel of death, Azrael, who says: “Don’t cling to one form;/ water continues to flow/ after the pot breaks …” Clearly this is a Rumi reference: “… falling up into the bowl of sky./ The bowl breaks/ Everywhere is falling everywhere// Nothing else to do.” (Illuminated Rumi, p. 62) The voices of the angels have a Rumi-esque quality that feels haunting and convincing. It is a perfect nod to the long poetic tradition that the Middle East has brought to the world. As a professional medium, intuitive, and Energy Medicine practitioner who deals with grief and supports others in reconnecting with loved ones on a regular basis, I found his angel references to be extremely accurate in their neutrality and unconditionally loving tone. His centering of the angel voices reinforces the idea that all people are equal in death, and all can access the angelic realms no matter their religious orientation. Even with Azrael’s voice as the angel of death—who I have, gratefully, not yet met—Sullivan sets the right tone for Azrael’s compassion.
These poems speak of pain, but they also are a means to healing. They go in and through and under the questions that were fought in the media. Engaging with others who have lived through it, his students at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz, California, who were vets, as well as veteran Brian Turner who encouraged Sullivan to keep writing, Sullivan definitely joins the conversation of “why war,” especially the Iraq war. These poems are healing for those who lived it, and engaging enough for those who didn’t, to give one pause to really ask the question of why we fight wars at all.
Author, Artist and Energy Medicine Practitioner, Robin H. Lysne has three books published: Dancing Up the Moon: A Woman’s Guide to Creating Traditions that Bring Sacredness to Daily Life; Sacred Living (both by Conari Press); and Heart Path: Learning to Love Yourself and Listening to Your Guides (Blue Bone Books). and several more in the works. Her next publication, Poems for the Lost Deer has been picked up by Finishing Line Press. She has an MFA from Mills College and a PhD in Energy Medicine from the University of Natural Medicine in Santa Fe, NM.