( This lovely review was written for the Love Street Breezes.)
Journey from here to HERE: Poems and a Bit of Prose
(93 pages, a REALnothings Publication)
by Max Reif
reviewed by Eric Solibakke
As usual Max's voice touches my heart with its humanity and gentleness born of gratitude to the Beloved for having navigated him over here's rough and uneven territory on his journey in search of HERE. The Beloved's constant call of love functions as a reliable compass in these poems. I especially appreciate his humor and playfulness that does not belie the seriousness of his experiences. These poems are not just confessions. Max manages to laugh at himself and weep at the same time.
Journey from here to HERE is after all a bouquet of love messages to the Beloved. Max puts his musical skills to work – or to play – in language crafted to amuse and entertain the Beloved in verse. It's up and down, of course, praise and complaint, but most of all it's the genuine outcry of a seriously playful heart.
How beautifully has Meher Baba reoriented poetry in our time by offering himself as the subject and focus of inspired utterance. This is a volume of such utterance. It's a journey in which sometimes Max can see the very destination – the City of Love as he calls it – and sometimes he cannot. When there, it is so sufficient: “You showed me to your Feast/ why, the world was pink and laughing/ and You were Honeycomb,/
as much as needed/ to fill my appetite.” (p. 6)
And later in the takhallus of a ghazal:
Max, you once felt someone in a room praying for you.
Touched by an angel feather, your burden got wings and flew. (p. 60)
And when the City of Love isn't there: “Longing grows/ and the pull of the world,/ it gets tiresome. You know/ how tiresome it gets.” (p. 7 )
And seen with other eyes:
I flapped my wings./ I could not fly./ I knew within/ the reason why.
Resentment's lead/ encased my heart./ My spirit's journey/ could not start. (p. 23)
It takes considerable courage to expose the intimate details of one's journey to the scrutiny of others. There are wounds and scars among the flashes of humility and wisdom. Amid the playfulness despite the wounded heart, there is a deeper theme of how previous loss enriches current gain:
The price of inspired words is generally a broken heart.
Within this enigma lies the mystery of Art. (p. 63)
And about the role of the poet:
The poet plunges the blade of his pen into his own flesh,
Probing beneath a pattern to discover something fresh. (p. 63)
And what does the Poet find there beneath the patterns:
But once you know, how do you tell people they're holy?
Now in some realm of eternal return, the boy stands once more before the Holy word as it speaks from the soapbox in the park. He walks up to the word in its faded, dusty suit, taking its hand: "You can't," he says. "You can't tell them. You have to be it." (p. 77)
I get a good giggle from Max's dream about the Beloved called THE FACTORY on page 66. To continue that charming light touch I also recommend the cosmological prose poem called SUN, WORLD, FLOWER starting on page 78.
In among the many vehicles of his journey – skates, ferris wheel, merry-go-round, car, bus, plane, donkey, horse, caravan, dream, phoenix – and the always-present fuel:
O, nostalgia for the divine/ Break through all shell of pretense/ to what is always here. (p. 51)
Max realizes his journey-vehicle-destination most powerfully, it seems to me, in his poem of surrender to the ultimate vehicle, the Beloved's FEET (p. 25).
Setting out on life's journey,
I knew nothing of YOUR FEET.
Loveliness became quicksand, then
You let me grab YOUR FEET.
Touchstone of Existence,
All life springs from YOUR FEET.
World is all just flux of water.
Solid ground? YOUR FEET.
In joy, in grief, the same prescription –
Hold on to YOUR FEET.
All is but a passing dream,
All except YOUR FEET.
Child's body became old man's.
All that stays the same? YOUR FEET.
Maya's drug, so powerful!
Dive back to YOUR FEET!
Prostrate in surrender, ah,
New life from YOUR FEET.
My feet must walk this journey,
More important, though? YOUR FEET.
Journey from here to HERE is now available for $10 plus shipping, from Sheriar Books Online: http://www.sheriarbooks.org/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=book123839&Category_Code=BOOK_ABBA_POET