Come-Hither Honeycomb by Erin Belieu

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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“If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time // to die,” Erin Belieu writes in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease,” one of the fifteen poems that make up her remarkable new collection, Come-Hither Honeycomb. It’s this ironic tone of dubious hope that characterizes much of the book; or, as the title of one the poems about the fragility of life puts it: “Dum Spiro Spero” (“While I breathe, I hope”).”
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As in her previous collection, Slant Six, Belieu kicks her observations of the everyday up to a higher metaphysical gear, muses about the deeper truths of existence.  The poem, “The Man Who Fills in Space,” about a clueless collector of things, is reminiscent of the Mister Jones character in Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” or John Lennon’s “Nowhere Man.” The poem begins with an epigraph from Guy de Maupassant. “…and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains?” She writes:
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But when he pokes the canker
of that great, blank whatever
he never hopes to find, he swears
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he hears it laugh, the terrible what
of what is not. It yawns
right back at him.
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There’s a kind of existential dread at work here. What are we doing here? Why are we alive? (You know something’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?) The man who fills in space contemplates the sadness of the moon. It’s his loneliness, too. This theme of ungraspable purpose recurs again and again; in the poem, “In Which a Therapist Asks for the Gargoyle Who Sits on My Chest.” With subtle humor, Belieu writes, “It’s exhausting,
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how the whole’s designed to scrub
our greasy pan of sorrows to
a gleam in which we’ve actually paid
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to see ourselves. Caveat emptor?
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Buyer beware, indeed! Later in the poem she observes:
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Maybe it’s enough to recognize
ourselves unsolvable, half trash,
half glitter bomb, dropped along
the trench by dying stars.
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The French say, who can say?
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The epigraph to Come Hither Honeycomb, a quotation from Paraic O’Donnell’s The Maker of Swans, expresses this same sense of the elusiveness of ultimate certainty. The villanelle that opens the collection, “Instructions for the Hostage,” likewise suggests this uncertainty at the base of our lives:
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You must accept the door is never shut.
You’re always free to leave at any time,
though the hostage will remain, no matter what.
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Escape is always an option, but – there really is no escape. We’re all hostage to time. Belieu makes this very personal, contemplating her age, as if calculating how much time she has left. Dedicated to her son (“Always”), she seems to gauge her own time in relation to him; as he grows up, she grows older; there’s an almost palpable awareness of the passage of time, as in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near.”  The poem, “As for the Heart,” begins:
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I am come to the age
of pondering my lastness:
buying what seems likely
my final winter coat at Macy’s,
or when a glossy magazine
(so very blithely)
asks me to renew…
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This awareness of the fleeting, finite nature of time is especially at work in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease.” There’s nothing like being under scrutiny in a doctor’s office to reduce you to your mortality, after all, just another piece of meat. The poem begins:
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Science in its tedium reveals that every spirit
we spirit ganks a solid half hour from
our life spans. So says my doctor, a watery,
Jesus-eyed man, and hard to suffer
with his well-intended scrips for yoga
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Later in “As for the Heart,” contemplating maturity, she writes,
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Just yesterday,
while standing in the kitchen,
my son complained nonstop
about his AP psych class
while wolfing warmed up
bucatini from a crazed,
pink china bowl.
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Shiny, kvetching creature.
Even if I could tell him
what he doesn’t want to know,
I wouldn’t.
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It’s tempting to think Belieu has her son in mind when she writes the poem, “When I Am a Teenage Boy,” with its lovely opening lines:
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I am like my parents’ house, in a state
of constant remodel we can ill afford,
the noise behind a tarp producing little more
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than dust.
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Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken / of the soul… she quotes Longfellow to her doctor in “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease.”
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What are we, ever? Always becoming. Until we aren’t. In “Loser Bait,” from which the collection’s title comes, Belieu writes
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Some of us
are chum.
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Some of us
are the come-hither
honeycomb
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gleamy in the middle
of the trap’s busted smile.
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Maybe the best we can hope for, indeed, is “If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time // to die.”  Carpe diem, dude!
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Erin Belieu’s poetry is vivid and original. In the final poem, “She Returns to the Water,” a naked woman, now past her youth, swims naked in a pool at three a.m. Belieu describes her dive like this:
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the arc of her
trajectory pretty
as any arrow’s
.
in Saint Sebastian’s
side.
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What a simile! Gobsmacking. Erin Belieu’s poetry is a delight to read, for its wit as well as its wisdom.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

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