Theatre Review: SWAN Day 2011 — A Celebration of Pittsburgh’s Women Artists

Reviewed by Adrienne Block

On March 24 and 25, No Name Players presented SWAN Day 2011: A Celebration of Pittsburgh’s Women Artists, a multimedia, multigenre event, at the New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s Northside. The Hazlett, one of a growing number of artistic and cultural venues on the Northside, is located inside an historic gray stone building with graceful Romanesque arches that contrast pleasantly with the lobby’s warm, contemporary feel. The theater itself was arranged in a spare, bare-bones style with seating on three sides of a central stage area that was empty except for some spindly red furniture pushed against the back wall. The minimal staging left room for the wide variety of performances to come, promising that they would find a multitude of ways to fill and energize the space.

When the lights dimmed, Don DiGiulio (NNP’s Artistic Director) and Tressa Glover (NNP’s Managing Director) bounded onto the stage to greet the audience, bringing a warmth and spirited enthusiasm that made me feel welcome, like I was part of the community of the performance. Glover explained that SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day is an annual event that takes place during the last weekend in March, Women’s History Month. She emphasized that although SWAN Day is celebrated throughout the world, No Name Players is the only Pittsburgh-based theater company to create a performance in honor of it—a distinction in which she takes great pride. This was NNP’s 3rd annual SWAN Day celebration, and they plan to continue the tradition in years to come.

No Name Players tried something new for this year’s SWAN Day: they gathered together groups of women living in Pittsburgh and interviewed them about what they love, hate, fear—anything that came to mind. Almost 60 women in all participated, and once the interviews were complete NNP condensed the footage into a 53-minute DVD which they gave to the participating artists and performers. The participants then created brand new works within their chosen genre based upon the video, and the result was a performance that included short plays, dance, poetry, music and video, with visual art displayed concurrently in the lobby. “All of these acts are world premieres,” enthused Glover, “a celebration of women, of artists and of Pittsburgh.”

The 16 short performances that followed didn’t disappoint: I was treated to a little bit of everything, my mind freshly focused upon the newness of each successive act. The show opened with a prologue written and directed by Glover in which four women stood scattered across the stage, each illuminated by a single spotlight. They spoke about hopes, fears, views on having kids, and what they said often contradicted one another.

Following this, curtains opened behind the stage and several minutes’ worth of excerpts from the interview video played. This served to ground the audience in the raw material for the night’s performances, and quotes from the video recurred as the show continued. The fact that the artists drew from a common source helped to unify the performances and also brought to light salient features of the interviews.

One woman in the video drew huge laughs from the audience when she shared her strategy to counteract people who insist she should have a baby someday even though she’s certain she doesn’t want one. Quoting loosely: “I just tell people, ‘You should buy a horse. Someday you will want a horse. Wouldn’t it be so nice to have a horse someday? Your life would be so full.’” Apparently the horse quote inspired the participants as well, as it surfaced in several acts. Other themes that flowed through the show included traditional gender roles and the need to challenge them, the importance of female support systems, and the necessity of having self confidence, yet being able to express self-doubt.

The juxtaposition of forms kept me engaged throughout, always eager to see what was coming next and preventing any one act from becoming tiresome. The variety also highlighted aspects of each medium which might otherwise have been muted: I found myself more focused on the voices of the singers and their instruments when they followed the relative quiet of poetry or a play. I first noticed this when EMay, a soulful singer with blond dreadlocks that fell to her waist, took the stage and commanded my full attention with her deep, resonant voice.

Another highlight of the night came directly after intermission when two dancers from Bodiography Contemporary Ballet performed a piece choreographed by Maria Caruso, accompanied by a singer (Alexa Raquel Casciato) sitting on a stool near the back of the stage. The dancers, a man and a woman, both a combination of grace and power, performed a riveting dance incorporating modern and ballet elements while the voice of the singer faded in and out in the background. After the dance came a short play, and then an act that included elements of tap dancing, spoken word, and kundalini yoga. As the show continued, each act felt fresh and vital.

When the theater lights came on and I checked my watch, I was surprised to see that almost three hours had passed. My fellow audience members also seemed oblivious to the time. As if to affirm the show’s community-building feel, almost no one left after the performance ended. Instead, people milled around in the lobby chatting or taking in the visual art on display. They were also waiting to see to night’s final performance: a fire dance by EMay, the dreadlocked singer from earlier in the evening.

Dozens of people spilled out onto the theater’s front steps or huddled in its archways to watch. EMay took up a flaming sword, brandished it in the air, danced with it, balanced it atop her head. Then she grasped several flaming wands in each hand, and dragged them through the air like burning claws. Despite the chill temperatures and late hour, many lingered until she doused the last flame.


Book Review: Riding the Capitol Corridor Line

by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

I’m on the train to my home city, traveling east rather unsteadily through the flooded marshlands. I’m reading a strange little book I found on my daughter’s shelf a few hours ago—Soulstorm, a collection of short stories by Clarice Lispector (1925-1977), translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin, and first published in 1974. I’ve never read her work before, and this collection of shorts (most only a few pages long) is surprising and energizing.

For one thing, her stories don’t feel the need to explain, justify or probe. They are what they are, and so are their characters. In “The Body” for instance, Beatrice and Carmen (“the hotheaded one”)—part of a ménage a trois—stab to death their lover and partner, Xavier, and bury him in the garden with a rose cutting that magically roots and blooms there. The police find them out, but allow them to go free; “…otherwise there will be lots of noise, lots of paperwork, lots of gossip.” One by one each character, each story announces: What is is. It’s all mystery.

Earlier this morning, on this same train but headed west, I also read a new book of poems called Writing the Silences by the ninety-year old poet Richard O. Moore. It is (despite his long life in poetry initiated by a class with Josephine Miles at Berkeley and, soon after, by his hanging out with Kenneth Rexroth’s gang in San Francisco in the late thirties and forties) only Moore’s second full-length collection.

The book includes a wonderful foreword by Brenda Hillman (Moore took a workshop from her some years ago and eventually they became friends), as well as several pages of photographs at the end: Moore with Jarrell, with Zukovsky, with Ginsberg and Orlovsky, along with photos taken by Moore—of Creeley, Levertov, and Sexton, among others.

Already a pacifist, he was classified as “4F” in WW II, with a diagnosis of “psychotic neurotic” (because he answered several questions honestly, among them: “What do you do for a living?” Answer: “I’m a poet.”) Moore subsequently became an adviser to war resisters and one of the founders of the first non-profit public radio stations in the U.S.

After the war, Hillman says, ”Moore’s poetry came to be dominated by images of barren landscapes and resistance to violence.” She describes how he began as something of an imagist (though always an eclectic), and how philosophical enquiry, his concern from early on, became more and more of a focus in his work: “His poetry has continued to reflect the values and eclectic free-verse styles of the San Francisco Renaissance writers: a growing interest in experimental lyric; a blend of traditional rhymes with very relaxed, unfettered prose poetry…fresh forms of personal address; and a growing interest in the philosophy of language as subject matter and in method.”

As I rocked side to side in my seat, as the marshlands flashed past with their mirror-shards, and we rattled and swayed westward toward the bay, I felt “the hot and onrushing blood” [“The Winter Garden”] of Moore’s words rushing along inside me.

You could say that Lispector was (that we all are), in a different way, also “writing the silences” and, that just as the characters in Lispector’s collection feel no need to explain, Moore’s poems also seem to insist: What is is—and yes, my friends, it’s all mystery. (Even at ninety. No doubt, especially at ninety.)

I’ll close with brief excerpts from two of Moore’s poems. I want him to have the last word:

dismantle history’s theoretic spine
with life the issue guess what hinders and what serves

turn inside out and outside in
abandon the cellular palace of the skin
blown to bits or spotted with old age

force together peace and humankind
in an exploded classroom of the mind

speak of resurrection and of ruin
in a battlefield with shot down angels strewn

and wild flattened scarecrows words on a page
of desolations patronage


madness crept into my pocket
like a hairy bug

I cannot say I saw it
but I believe it
to be there waiting


A Season in Hell XI

by Elizabeth Kirschner

3:31. It is Sunday and I still know my date of birth: 7/3/55. And the D.O.D? Tomorrow, a month, a decade away? My shadow is giving off black reflections and my words are just black reflections. Create scenes, one friend advised. Scene I. Being Choked to Death. Scene II. The Body Bag, nails driven into the back of my head the way Mother rammed the bat into my head.

I wish I had an hourglass, could watch time slip away the way I want to slip away. Quietly slip away, just go from the material world, the corporeal world of my mortally wounded body into the spirit world. Maybe I would make a better spirit than mother, than wife. Doctor Susan says, “It’s amazing you survived” when I tell her the memories of Father putting things in and out of the holes in my body, especially the stink hole. Mother brandishing the bat, using her fists. Right now I feel her jamming her knuckles into my tightly closed eyes. Why, why did I survive? Why, why, why?

Susan says, to write and I have written, every day I do. Five books and the only one I care about is My Life as a Doll, that hell tale of my mother’s violence written before I remembered Father’s. It’s a horror story. So why tell it? Who wants to read the nightmares, see the bad film?

The Sacred Heart

by John Samuel Tieman


                                                            a maroon leaf drops

                                                            stem to stem with a yellow

                                                            an autumn death pact

             My mother is 101.   She lives in a home.   She had a private room until last month.   Until her privacy didn’t matter because reality doesn’t matter.   Because I live half-a-country away, I never met the new roommate.   Until my visit last Monday.

             There is a simplicity to our visits.   Mother likes the relationship.   I like the relationship.   Beyond that, there is nothing.   Mother has dementia.   So when we talk about the old days, nobody’s dead to her and everyone – husbands and parents and friends – are all in the next room.   I’m in there.   Like when she tells me about the other son named John, “the teacher”, the one she delivered last week “in the next room”.   To her nurse, dementia is a complex disease.   To me, it’s as simple as emptiness.

             But about the roommate.   Mother says the roommate’s husband once visited, that and something about him kneeling.   Their room is just over there.   So I look.   She’s beautiful.   The roommate is half my mother’s age.   While Mother has all manner of personal items – her rosary, snapshots, a box of Kleenex, a drawing of the Sacred Heart – the roommate has just one photo, her and her husband at something formal.   The husband is the kind of guy who wears a tuxedo well.   She is tan, 35-ish, shapely, charming in that Southern big-haired sort of way.   She effortlessly wears the low cut dress of a woman who knows she’s sexy.   The shot captures her mid-laugh.   Today she stares out the window on her right.   She pays no mind to her photo, to me, to the nurse who comes up behind me.   Her nurse says she’s been staring for fifteen years this way.   But this isn’t about the window.   She simply stares to the right.

                                                            just before I leave

                                                            I stare out the living room

                                                            window to the street

                                                            a basketball rolls by followed

                                                            by nothing no one not a soul



by John Samuel Tieman

By the way, when Basho takes his Narrow Road to The Deep North, he is walking a path that leads him to, through, and around the very area in Japan that is suffering the nuclear disaster. Asaka, now Fukushima, he describes as wooded. It is here, if I recall correctly, that he searches in vain for a rare flower, a type of iris, indigenous to that region.

autumn chill
no other travelers
brave this road

Things have changed.


A Season in Hell X

by Elizabeth Kirschner

Gradually the meds start to work. Now there’s the sobbing to do, barfing out the pain. Merciless, God is merciless, has eyes in the back of his head just like Mother did. She was always watching me with the eyes in the back of her head and now the back of my head is riddled with nails.

I crawl out from under the vanity. Debilitated, I can’t do a thing. Not a thing. I am a ravaged woman, a haunted woman. Outside, I believe there is an outside somewhere, but I am afraid of that black sack, that it might come back and what can a woman do with nails in her head? Dead low tide. Okay, I got that right, looked out the window without lifting my head. Dead low tide and my life, too, is at dead low tide. Ebbing, ebbing slowly away, sob by sob. 3:28. 3:29. I can record the time and it is passing on as I am passing, an impermanent dream. That’s the Buddhist concept: all phenomena are but an impermanent dream which makes—does it really?—my madness an impermanent dream. It’s awful just plain awful being a phenomenon of impermanence and who can live with an impermanent brain?

Dad’s Rhymes

by Dawn Roper

My dad, Frank Roper, was a caterer and a versifier of sorts.

Here’s my dad’s rhyme to my sister Debbie on the topic of defensive driving:

Here lies Debbie, who died one day,
While trying to maintain the right-of-way.
She was right, dead right, as she drove along,
But she’s just as dead as if she’d been wrong.

Just so you don’t think he’s some sort of genius, I’ll tell you another. He was a caterer, so he was very strict about cleanliness in a kitchen. If we would ever fail to meet his standard he would recite the following:

“What will you have”?
The waitress said, as she stood there picking her nose.
“Two hard boiled eggs, you miserable witch,
you can’t get your fingers in those.”

Dad always tried to make us laugh while giving us the gears.



by Publius

               A decade or so ago ago, I was teaching in an all female, Catholic high school.   A few weeks before graduation, two female students were caught kissing in the bathroom.   One student, Marla, was a current student of mine.   The other, Diane, I had taught a few years before.   Both were very good, serious students, and had never been in any trouble that I know of.   Diane was the introvert, and Marla the extrovert.

            Since the bathroom was just down from my room, the teacher who caught them, and the principal, brought them to my room, the nearest room.   I had the period free.   The discomfort of the other teacher and the principal, both nuns, was almost tangible.   As was their hostility.   They alternated between bursts of anger, threats of humiliation, and awkward silences punctuated by glares at the students.   Marla and Diane were stoic, silent, outwardly impassive.

            I too remained a silent observer.   But I knew this could not go on like this.   I felt like we were made of brittle crystal, and one more high C would shatter us.

            I finally asked them, ‘Would you like me to handle this?’   I asked this because another question silently occurred to me – Why did the adults choose my room?   Indeed, why me?   The principal’s office was at the end of the hall, and the other teacher’s room was catty-corner from me.   In any case, everyone seemed relieved that I asked.   From this moment on, the other two adults never involved themselves in the matter.   Indeed, they never even asked about it.   They just left.

            Then I said three things to my students before our conversation, a conversation that, in truth, would continue for the rest of the year.   First, I assured them that, ‘No matter what you tell me, I will accept it.’   Secondly, I assured them that, no matter what, ‘I will continue to be your teacher.’  

            It is worth noting also that I ever so briefly explained to them that, while I am not bound by confidentiality, ‘you know, like your priest in confession’, I will ‘let personal stuff stay personal stuff.’

            I remember Marla’s blue eyes flashing, then darting between me and Diane as she asked, “You mean like you’d get me help if I said I ate some pills, but you’d pretty much just listen if I said I like French kissing?”

            ‘Yea, that’s pretty much it.’

            Marla and Diane gazed at me intently.   I am absolutely sure that they were judging whether or not if it was safe to let me into their world.   There was a pause, then an audible exhale.   The relief was felt by all three of us.   I also feel sure that their trust rested upon the fact that our relationship was healthy in that, among other things, I had never shamed them.

            Following this, I actually said very little.   That I would accept them, that I would not get angry, that I would not shame them, that I would continue my relationship with them, this seemed to be all they really needed to know.  

            That first day they confided how they were more worried about the reaction of the teachers than the students.   Apparently the students already knew of their affair.   They told me of their dreams of getting married.   Having kids.   A house.   Over the years, I have become accustomed to the fact that kids often do not want advice:  they just want someone to listen.   I tell my student teachers, ‘Sometimes the kids just want to leave something on your desk.   They really don’t want you to pick it up and grade it.’   This was such a case.

            Over the next few weeks, there were a number of similar conversations.   My only interjections were to occasionally focus on the here-and-now.   Once, for example, they spoke of moving to another state in order to get married.   “Today.   Right after school.”   I reminded them that senior finals were in just a couple of weeks.   I also reminded them that “The Big Plan”, their term, was to finish high school, go to the state university together (they had been accepted to the same university), live together then get married.

            But most of the time I just listened.   Often, they showed great insight.   Once Diane said, “We’re teenagers.   We’re supposed to be experimenting with sex!   It’s like our job.   Why is everyone so shocked?”   Other times, their dreams were the dreams of young people everywhere.   I felt at this point that possibly, just possibly, Marla and Diane were beginning to settle into a stable sense of sexual identity, this as opposed to being shamed into role confusion.   I also felt that they were developing the skills of intimacy, and that this hopefully would spare them the pain of isolation so often felt by homosexuals and bisexuals.

            They graduated from high school.   They went off to the university.   Their romance did not last very long.   But they remain close friends to this day.   And they learned that love is possible.   I do not want to portray myself as a saint.   But I like to think that I, their teacher, helped a little with all of that.


A Season in Hell IX

by Elizabeth Kirschner

Stop, I scream, stop! I’m clutching the door handle to the fridge. Is it time for the deep freeze? Husband who gave me the silent treatment, again, again, is now going to give me the deep freeze. He’s giving me the deep freeze by staring into my black, beady eyes with a frozen stare. He’s staring me down while scaring me to death. Where the hell are my meds? Should I take the whole bottle? Will that send him away so I can be back in kitchen with the party lights on. Is this a funeral party? It must be. I’m attending my own funeral party.

Somehow, I get away and he disappears like a genie back into its bottle. I’m crawling, sniffing like a dog for the scent of my meds. I’m in the bathroom now. It’s dark in here. Shaking, I open the drawer where I keep the good medicine. The good medicine that will keep bad medicine men like my husband away. Down the hatch they go, under the vanity I hide. I have to hide. I hide all the time. There’s a lot of hiding to do to keep away Mother, Father and now my husband. I’m cupping the back of my head, reeling with the pain from those nails. Christ was nailed to death, now me. Wait it out, I think, wait it out till the meds kick in.

Theatre Review: Voodoo Trilogy

Reviewed by Evan Oare

If you’ve never been to the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, you may find yourself wondering whether you are going to see a show or are on your way to pay for parking. Sharing its site with a garage, the theatre is situated across from Six Penn in the heart of the Cultural District. A placard directs you inward and up to a second floor space that’s just large enough for personal comfort but small enough to elicit intimacy with fellow theatregoers. A hidden gem alongside its bigger and noisier neighbors, the strengths of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company (PPTCO) lie in its size, sense of community, and relative youth.

PPTCO recently added another stage area, aptly named the couch theater, employed for two of the plays comprising Frank Gagliano’s Voodoo Trilogy. Performed in quick succession on Mardi Gras, the evening began with In the Voodoo Parlor of Marie Laveau (An Unsung Voodoo Chamber Opera), followed by a staged reading of The Commedia World of Lafcadio B. (A Farce), and capped off by Congo Square (The Musical). All three, set in differing times in the New Orleans residence of Marie Laveau, preeminent voodoo queen, the night was woven into an entrancing exploration of corruption, fantasy and—yes—desire. And don’t think the fact that each show in the trilogy has three actors was lost on me!

In the Voodoo Parlor… begins with the tortured ramblings of Laveau, an unintelligible stew of inflected mash (I can’t say I wasn’t relieved when both the Post-Gazette and City Paper conceded that they, too, found it incomprehensible). Beyond that, Chrystal Bates plays a convincingly feverish Laveau as she guides two lost souls in their misguided pursuits. It’s worth it to see the show on one of its remaining performances (March 10–12, 8PM) purely for the stage direction, which makes use of the vibrantly detailed set, as well as for the sense of rhythm imbued by the lilting reading of lines, supported by nearby African drums. [Future visitors, be warned!—comfy and intimate, the couch theater may warrant a pre-show trip to the Starbucks around the corner before you sink in and listen to the actors’ soothing cadences, which cast a soporific effect.]

Lafcadio B, while merely a reading rather than full production, gave such a taste of its actors’ talents for character detail and timing that it made one long for more. Titular character Lafcadio Beauregard aka Lobo, self-described confidence man, entwines his fellow characters in his schemes to evade debts and swindle a considerable sum.

The final feature, a musical, portrays a deranged young man (charming Monteze Freeland) in his search for the source of culpability in a corrupt world. Congo Square has an air of fragility that provides a glimpse of what The Glass Menagerie might have been had it been given a dash of racial politics a few decades later. The songs evoke something out of a Jason Robert Brown musical in their playfulness. Despite these comparisons, Congo Square shows a glimmer of originality and ambition of its own that allows its players to create genuine moments of lucidity and warmth. Ultimately, the plot is too muddled to achieve what the play really grasps for, but—a show that’s ambitiously written, well-acted, with beautiful set design?—I’ll take that any day.

Read an interview with playwright Gagliano that reveals his impressive history and his take on the three plays.

Theatre Review: The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage

Reviewed by Claudette Dagorn

It is said that great things come in small packages. If this is so, then Pittsburgh’s quaint Future Tenant’s art space offered a gift of gigantic proportions. With its walls adorned in maps from various European locations and the stage a mere wooden shelf and lounge chair, one would wonder what entertainment could be provided with the bare minimum, especially surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh. However, those who had the pleasure to witness Robert Isenberg’s journey through comedy and sincerity while traveling through the Balkans realized they found the right place.

Robert began the tale of the journey, as written in his recent Autumn House Press book, The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage, with a traveler’s nightmare: ostracized in a foreign country with nothing more than an unstamped passport and an American smile. Yet this circumstance does not halt our fearless leader neither in Croatia nor on the stage. He cleverly reenacts the diction of security guards and the awkwardness of being taken for questioning, aiding the audience in feeling as if they were right there beside him in this moment of confusion. Isenberg is so entertaining that we can’t help but hang on his words, waiting for the next story to unfold. At one point, he climbs on a chair to re-enact climbing a mountainside. At another point, he re-enacts a conversation with his landlord, capturing the Bosnian accent perfectly.

The performance, directed by Don DiGiulio for the No Name Players (, was entertaining in its presentation and educational about the history and geography of the Balkans, but it was Isenberg’s portrayal of the people he encountered in his journey that made the evening memorable.

A Season in Hell VIII

by Elizabeth Kirschner

Suddenly—how does this happen?—I’m out of the black body sack and oh my God, husband is driving nails into the back of my head. His face looks chalky, grey stubble on his cheeks and he is way taller than me. Has he had a growth spurt since I moved away? He’s got bulging muscles, like a boxer’s, and his once sweet hazel eyes have turned into broken crystals that stare hard while he drives in those very long and rusty nails to kill my rusty brains, turn them into brain dust. He’s using my pretty hammer with the flowers on it and my skull is cracking—I can hear it—booming like a crack in an iceberg. Now I’m howling with pain, the very real pain from those very real nails. It’s riveting me while my head is being studded with nails. He’s really got me this time and he’s been trying to get me for years. There’s a lot of blood. Ugly black blood clotted with my hair. I’m in a pool of it, am sinking into to. Surely I’ll drown in my own blood, in my very own bloodbath.

Is this my baptism? The last sacrament for the dead? When did Dr. Robert Wolff become a priest? He’s Jewish, I know he’s Jewish, it’s a well-known fact that he is Jewish, so how can he be a priest? I used to go to priests, tell my sins. That’s it—I committed a sin by running away from him and this is my punishment. I’m getting nailed, getting hammered with the pain.

Book Review: Diwata by Barbara Jane Reyes

Barbara Jane Reyes
BOA Editions
Paperback, $16.00
ISBN 9781934414378
Published September, 2010

Reviewed by Carolyne Whelan

A Diwata, in Philippine culture, is a guardian spirit of nature similar to a nymph or elf who resides in large trees and is capable of delivering both fortune and misfortune. They are called upon ritually to bring a fruitful harvest, health, and wealth, but will cause harm to those who disrespect or cause harm to the natural world. Barbara Jane Reyes, in her new collection, Diwata, adds that Diwata (seemingly a singular spirit in the book, though culturally there are many Diwatas) is the sister of Thunder and Lightning: “And their sister, the strange diwata whose light remains contained. Witness she is, and weaver. If she would only speak, then she would tell you – these stories I give you, I swear they are the truth.”

Starting with a monologue of longing from Eve, Reyes weaves seamlessly the creation myths of the Book of Genesis and of the Tagalog people of the Philippines, along with the bloody history of colonization in the Philippines and her grandfather’s role during World War II. We are offered Reyes’ own version of oral history, the history of her split heritage, the story of survival, and myths of Reyes’ own creation that add an additional emotional truth despite their deliberate inaccuracy. We leave this book both shellshocked and empowered, reborn and rib-torn.

While these poems are capable of standing alone with their musical incantations (“We bring her tobacco when she calls shrill bird trill carried upon air as though her voice were a body’s warm rib cage we could wrap our arms round tight.”), they work collectively as one long narrative that uses traditional Filipino poetic devices, including call and response, repetition, and songlike refrains. The long humming lines matched with short pulse lines (“Here I shall weave a selvedge of we.”) hypnotize us like a fire on an otherwise black night.

It is easy to get engulfed in these flames and feel wrapped in a timeline that will never reach us, something mythological in itself, a time when the Diwata was a goddess, and with good timing Reyes pulls us in with quick references to Marlboros or a “tattooed daughter.” The poem, “How I no longer believe in Pious Women,” a sort of backwards prayer for “glittery G-stringed putas” and the “craving for stiletto-heeled patent leather, perfume of tiger lilies and tobacco, swigs from the whiskey bottle” comes towards the end of the collection to ground us and remind us that the detriment done to Filipinas is still pungent, but so is the strength they found as they chopped off their hair and went to war for their land and freedom. At the end of this poem, though, Reyes catches herself in lament and before getting back to the story of Creation (of humanity, of the modern Filipina, of “Barbara, que barbaridad”), she offers an apology only to herself: “Oh, but how I have strayed. From my story, how I have strayed.” She then, on beat, gets back to the task at hand.

Being a person with embarrassingly limited knowledge of Philippine history, be it mythological, oral, or strictly factual, I find it hard to determine the line between history and Reyes’ fictionalizations, an issue about which Reyes herself notes reservations on her blog. By the end of the book, however, I still understand more than I did and am eager to learn more. I am left with something more important than fact, an uncomfortable feeling of disquietude and a firm understanding that Barbara Jane Reyes is a compelling poet and storyteller.