Hera Calf Lightning Rod
by Debrah Morkun
Splitleaves Press | April 2010
Splitleaves Press lives true to its name. First encountering publications from this small, Philadelphia-based press, one will find out exactly what this means: The binding of these small books is missing. The pages of each of their chapbooks can fall, like leaves, if you aren’t careful. Benjamin Winkler, if you are lucky enough to be face to face with him when you buy a copy of a book that his press has put out, may offer you some string. Winkler makes it a habit, I’ve noticed, to attend the readings of those he plans to publish.
Hera Calf Lightning Rod came to me as a set of selected tarot cards with poetry on the back bound with a red ribbon. One of the first things I did, I admit, is to write down the order in which the chapbook came. Though, the poems can be, like a deck of tarot cards must be, shuffled. The collection retains its magic in any order. It is a deck of myth but not of mystery. Debrah Morkun’s voice is clear and bright.
Beginning with “The Hierophant” and ending with “The Tower”, Morkun displays for her reader a series of repeated images. These images only reoccur right as the reader may have forgotten them. To Morkun, the moon is a mouth and a nightclub is a storm; Margaret Meade and Gogol Bordello share the same era. But for as many metaphors and myths (Narcissus, Poseidon) mentioned, Morkun is highly adept at grounding her poetry in reality: “I have signed over a mortgage, not that I think / it’s fair to leave money in the bank,” she says on the back of “The Lovers”. And not just as a well-intentioned adult, but as a complex cardholder in reality, as in when she says “I am dancing at this silly club staring at myself in the mirror / because I am the most interesting girl here by far and I want myself” on the back of “Wheel of Fortune”.
Though Morkun’s text switches from myth to reality, it is the myth within her poetry, within the cards her poetry faces, that provide a backbone for reality. As the closing lines to her poem on the back of “Temperance” says, Morkun reminds her reader “If you accept this as it is, smile. Do not ask it to be another world.”
Shuffle the deck, and you may find another hidden myth in her lines, perhaps the dead myth of the poet that the poem on the back of the “Empress” references.
Editorial Book Review