Mysteries of the Missing: Arthur McMaster Reviews Geraldine Connolly’s Aileron

Aileron, by Geraldine Connolly. Terrapin Books, 2018, 104 pages, $16.00 ISBN: 978–0–9982159–9–0

We recognize the late Donald Justice as a poet of loss, a master of yesterdays — he, naming what we love, offering up what matters; these people and those days now gone. One recalls, perhaps, his astonishing poem “Men at Forty.”

Poets have long been attracted to mysteries of the missing. Geraldine Connolly, in her fourth full-length volume of poetry, proves once again that she has learned well the craft of poets gone before us. Besides Mr. Justice, I think of Amy Clampitt and her compelling 1985 volume What the Light Was Like. To reach the careful reader today, to truly move us, poems of time and place must be deftly made. Sentimental verse can be toxic, while the passing suggestion of emotion deeply felt soars. Takes flight. With her impressive observational skills, Connolly’s Aileron lifts us just high enough to take full measure of such feelings.

In the title poem, she reimagines childhood — always a gamble, but she does it delicately — her references to uncertainty, and “always the gravity. . .” Something ineffable pulling us away, “where the air divides. . .” yet allows her “to turn and tilt, to stay aloft.”

Geraldine Connolly does not insist; she alludes, and her fifty-five poems in this superb volume will resonate for all who have second guessed friendships, have pondered the trials of aging loved ones. The heart goes out of balance for us all, and the poet gives us well-fashioned insights into what to make of such angst. Consider, from her poem “Fable of the Good Daughter:”

Once like a flower I wanted to be good.

Once I prayed and obeyed.

But something must always happen.

Say, a betrayal.

Bad birds come to rest.

A weed turns into a stave.

Later, the poet makes another connection to her youth. She does not declare it gone, rather she alludes to what she once could manage. In her delightful “Ode to My Lost Quickness” we find:

Once I was quick as a wink,

a flea on a hot griddle,

a flash of flesh //

speeding through a small town

on a hummingbird’s whir.

Still, she opines that “Quickness [is] not all it’s said to be.” What might she mean by that? Circumspection, the simple joys of quietude, replaces haste and she is happy for it. The poem continues: “Now I hold my tongue, / I take my time and ponder.” To what end? The poem yields the wisdom she has now come to value:

I am amber inside a rock,

a little something born to disappear.

Well, we are all born to disappear. It is how one manages it that matters to Geraldine Connolly. One of the most astonishing and appealing pieces in the volume complicates the equation of what any of us retain from our former selves and what we make of the new normal. Her poem “The Hardware of the Brain” acts as a kind of shared experience for many and a foreshadowing for the rest of us. I am enchanted by the precision of the voice. Let’s listen:

You might suddenly be in the middle

of recalling it, the word you can’t remember,

a word to finish the end of a sentence

in an ordinary conversation and you don’t

know where it could have disappeared

so quickly around a corner when you

turned your head, into some dark tunnel,

past the bright buttons waiting to be pushed,

the cold steel drawers lined up and labeled so carefully,

lost among the glittering ancestors of thought . . .

What might be the ancestors of thought? Inspiration? Intuition? Or maybe simply a pre-cognitive pushing against something we only sense. Connolly poses several such intriguing conceits and offers the reader a volume to help us put such problems into a different kind of perspective. Where “my crib was lined with slippery sheets. / Even my death bed will shake with indecision, / my body wanting to slide into its soft nest / yet leap out, ride the animal to the finish.”

Take up this delightful volume to find fresh ideas on perception, on perspective, and surely on our own sources of inspiration. Aileron is certain to lift the conversation.