Danielle Cadena Deulen, Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, Barrow Street Press, 2015

Reviewed by Alizabeth Worley

[Review Guidelines]

Danielle Cadena Deulen's collection Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us is atmospheric and visceral. With repetition, meaning continually expands or changes; the images and thoughts she circles back to bear the weight of both silence and echo. The psychology of the collection wires up from the hot skin and muscle and blood to the vulnerable, blind spine to the hidden limbic center of the brain stem, a pulsing seed in the dark. Frequently the hyper-sensory state of trauma stalls the narrator in a kind of simultaneous fight-and-freeze, levied and pulled back and drawn out with meditations cool and clear like water or a mirror—such as in "To Philosophize is To Learn How to Die," in which she discusses Scheherazade, the virgin who told stories to evade execution by the King who had nightly taken a virgin girl to "bed and behead." The writer says,

Each day I wake and the past remains barbarous, which is why I always wake / in mourning [...] Call it willful obliteration—that's how it must have felt to the girls the king held, all pulses beneath and explosive nerve, black powder in the belly of a grenade.

     The speaker and those she speaks for are continually, whether thrashing or sitting still, experiencing erosion by storm.
      As often as not, the storm in which the collection sets itself is the aftermath—trauma as the altered, lived experience after the soul or body has been tattooed with danger or pain. In "Remedy":

Days stretch out now with nothing in them,
her adolescent summers like bleached sheets
hanging on the line. She wonders if this is
what it means to be a woman; her body mutinous,
burrowed into. Moths beat wildly at her smudged
window and she closes her eyes, too tired to
watch them suffer.

     Or, if aftermath isn't the right word, the storm is nonetheless hidden, continually hiding its face under an optical illusion, as under the oppressive storm of capitalism and power. For instance, in "Subplot" she writes of discovering

that we have spoken
the few lines given to us
that we didn't say them so valiantly

as we had imagined [...]
Our lovers wake up in our arms,

already exhausted by daylight
from which we can't save them.

The exhaustion of the private soul, the lover, stands sharp against the well-oiled machine gears of the capitalized, consumer-based society:

Eventually we'll exit
the black parentheses of the theatre, drive

toward home [...] we walk to our beds

apprising the horizon where the sun
has already set and a cast of city light
will applaud themselves until dawn.

However, the collection does not sink into social, environmental, and political despair. Instead, it combats the numb by levying specific and personally implicated critiques of the politics in which leaders prioritize economy over the peace of nations and of the environment, such as of Cincinnati's Mayor John Cranley in "On the Uncertainty of Our Judgment." She personalizes the political—or rather, bares the personal that is constantly being clothed or camouflaged as political—as when she braids scenes and thoughts about her newborn son with the oil spill:

That slight sting my nipples make / before the let down begins, but my baby is sleeping. Is he sleeping? Maybe he's just calm, waiting to open his eyes, little planet. Last night's storm has escaped his gaping mouth [...] What's important here is to recover our losses, says the mayor, meaning the the oil, which he has ordered the Coast Guard to vacuum out of the water so it might still be bought and sold.

As the poem continues, the two strands become more intertwined until they are enmeshed, first in the free associations of the narrator thinking as the baby sleeps:

At this hour, there's almost silence: the metronome of the mechanical swing rocking my boy, the throated note he suckles down. Why do I imagine that water works worker to be lonely? Perhaps he's walking toward the valve intake now, imagining applause, whistling a jaunty tune, / inexplicably happy in the black morning while I hum my boy archaic lullabies.

Through the poem, free association turns into parallel reflection:

wondering if a mother's body can filter out bad water, make it sweet. I may be going mad from lack of sleep [...] Should I wake him now, press / a burning nipple into his mouth, let him drain my aching breast? From outside a light brightens then seeps from his face. It will pass, the mayor says in every conference with the press. It will pass.

     In addition to political and social critique, Deulen counteracts despair in the forward movement of meditations, particularly through her lyric essays. Six of the poems in this collection are titled after the essays of Michel de Montaigne, calling on the prose, rumination, language, and concentration of the lyric essay, expounding and baring open some of the questions that haunt the poems throughout the collection. These lyric essays or prose poems hold philosophy up to the luminous naked bulb of the personal, realizing the theoretical. She packs in metaphysical and psychological strokes with each stage-direction and image. In "The Soul Discharges its Emotions Against False Objects," Deulen writes:

what Cassandra must have / seen the moment she tried to rise from Apollo, who only wanted her again and again—it was too much. Some say when she refused to sate him, he scorned her, made everyone think she was insane, as if, otherwise, everyone would have listened. That onerous vision of an army in the belly of a horse—who would have believed it wasn't a symbol, a sickness in her, but a gift on the eve of a fall?
Readers and writes of the poetry or essay can look to her six covers for rhythmic, language-centered renditions of Montaigne's discursive, humanistic works.

     Finally, Deulen's collection is the hard-earned claim of resilience in trauma. In "The Needle, The Thread," she asks:

What am I suppose 
               to do with all of this

[...] What am I
               supposed to do with
the scent of weeds,

the sharp, impatient
               greenness of them, split,
as I am, with a history

of sorrow?

The presence of happiness, even under questioning, is all the more stark and luminous because it is so rare in this collection, but the collection itself also speaks to the remarkable whole-ness of the poet amid threats, injury, danger. The poem, the last in the collection, ends with an implicit nod toward beauty:

What do
I do with this swirl of
pines, the wasp nest's

astonishing swell, the rifts
in the maple, rough
beneath my hands

and my God, the sky—
the sky—