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Rustin Larson, editor of Iowa Source, reviews BY AVAILABLE LIGHT by Michael Carrino

Review by Rustin Larson, Editor Iowa Source

By Available Light, New and Selected Poems by Michael Carrino. 98 pages. Guernica Editions, 2012.

I am familiar with many of these poems because I have reviewed past editions in which they were contained, and I am even the publisher of one of those books. I have known Michael Carrino for a while. In 1987 he rescued me and another Vermont College student from the Burlington, Vermont airport when we had just missed the last shuttle to Montpelier. We stayed at Michael’s home near Lake Champlain, sipped white wine and talked poetry in the evening, and were fed Montreal bagels and coffee for breakfast before departing in Michael’s Sirocco for the VC campus.

One thing I remember about Michael’s home was a framed poem on the wall, a piece he had published in the literary journal Poetry Miscellany. It was his poem “Lilacs.”

On a cobbled Montreal street
An old man pushes a wagon
Covered by a parasol – sells lilacs

Wrapped in white tissue.
He gives you a bouquet
Of the deepest lavender, their perfume

Heightens the air around you.
Hearing a freighter’s horn on the St. Lawrence
You turn to the sunset,

Shade your eyes to watch someone
Walking toward you, who by his appearance
Might be me. Knowing

How quickly longing unwinds darkness, grows
Brittle with each moment of absence
You lean against the old man’s sleeve

Refusing to disturb this rehearsal.

How appropriate this poem was in a frame, I thought. Its features were like that of an impressionist painting: the “parasol;” the “lilacs wrapped in white tissue.” It was as if Monet had put his efforts into words instead of paint. Plus, there was the advanced pleasure of combined senses, color blending into aroma: “…the deepest lavender, their perfume/ heightens the air around you”; and there was also the music of locale, sound blending into gesture: “hearing a freighter’s horn on the St. Lawrence/ you turn to the sunset,/ shade your eyes to watch someone/ walking toward you.” I was in awe of the poem’s completeness, denseness of imagery, and its ability to achieve a world in such a brief space.

These are characteristics that have always been a part of Michael Carrino’s poetry.

Now, after a career that has spanned decades, Guernica Editions has produced a gorgeous edition of Michael’s New and Selected poems: By Available Light. This book includes selected gems from his previous titles: Some Rescues; Under This Combustible Sky; Café Sonata; Autumn’s Return to the Maple Pavilion; and it also features a generous selection of recent poems.

One of my favorites in the New section is a poem that shares a similar spirit of lean, self-monitoring solitude to Edward Hopper’s painting, “Nighthawks.”

Woman At Dusk
Anthony’s Diner – Barre Vermont

This woman will not be rushed.
She lifts a white cloth napkin
To dab at a crease above her pale lips.
I imagine knowing her aching
Sadness in uncertain light
Often mistaken for stillness,
But decidedly sadness
No longer disguised.
She settles the napkin
Across her lap, folds
Small, pale hands on scarred oak,
As if to begin deliberate prayer.

She stares quizzically
At black coffee served by a waitress
Who never left or arrived.
Beyond grease-stained windows
Where one faint breeze
Scatters a crumpled, glinting wrapper,

Main Street will change into road,
Slowly finding one town, then another
Until it approaches Canada.

Stirring tepid chamomile tea
I recall what is revealed—
A drive, Swanton to Montreal
Under hazy, summer moonlight,
Windows rolled upon to any damp breeze.

I fell asleep. Awoke.
Not startled, I drove on
Alone, drove on.

To pay my bill, I gesture to no one,
As folds of mist drape what is left of today.

Over the years, Michael Carrino has written many poems of steady quiet beauty and lasting aesthetic value. This volume of New and Selected poems will help ensure his legacy many years more.

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