Two Sides of a Ticket by Helen Leslie Sokolsky Reviewed by Seth Jani
Helen Leslie Sokolsky’s beautifully designed and
written Two Sides of a Ticket is a small book about the largeness of loss,
but even more than the size of those losses it is about the suspension and
resurrection of those losses through the power of memory.
The book is full of small moments smoking, bubbling and erupting through time. The sort of phantasmagoria that come and go in every life (a weekend dress, the sight of loitering geese, a passing lover’s quarrel) but that are ultimately and quietly redeemed by the force of remembering, the aesthetic apprehension of their coming and going.
In these poems Sokolsky catches, with a painter’s ability to render a moment in time, these scenes of passage and loss. In their containment she gives voice to a kind of sad transcendence, exploring the unity that binds us through the weight of our shared inconstancy, a state that stretches through our lives both personal and romantic, and extends itself even out into the animal and mineral kingdoms:
It takes a gesture
a simple gesture
like a robin
brushing its feathers against your hand
from the surrounding amber
in the middle of nowhere
a pledge in plain clothes
asking for nothing
knowing no two rooms
are ever exactly the same
that will startle the abandoned air
into a slow movement
and the mailboxes rearranged
will edge closer to one another
that will surface
before the night runs out of stars
that even in our aloneness
we are not always alone.
It’s the small and uncanny happenings that remind us of our togetherness in our familiarity and loneliness: the robin’s passing flight, the subtle and inexplicable movement of inanimate objects, two rooms that are alternately identical and heartrendingly strange.
Two Sides of a Ticket is, as the bird in her “Ode to a Fallen Sparrow”, a kind of “resurrection symphony” in which the almost-forgotten voices of many lives are lifted like little flickering ghosts from the book’s pages. “He was the one who never quite made the team/he who sometimes missed the ball/and let it pass to other hands” (Runner-Up). “At sixteen/I had a ticket to board a Greyhound bus/But I was not fast enough/So I stood there/Stranded on the station platform/Hungry as the hills that yawned before me” (Two Sides of a Ticket).
In this collection Sokolsky has movingly and
beautifully accomplished one of the primeval tasks of all art; to lift individual,
expiring moments and people up and out of time, creating an at least extended
refuge from the ravages of decay. The book not only honors all the figures and
instances salvaged and crystallized in its brief thirty-five pages, but shows
with striking clarity the strength of Sokolsky’s steady, talented and
industrious hand. The entire work takes on and completes exactly what the
closing poem “Memento” aspires to; to make just this one moment, this passing
specter of earthly life, become “simply suspended”.
Sokolsky has indeed created a “garden of memory” and through her power as an artist we too can taste and “savor the legacy of the daffodils”, as well as take comfort in the sort of realistic but still encouraging optimism of a glass being turned idly “against the light”, the emptiness of what has been drank and depleted being replaced by a radiance that makes it seem “always full”.