John McCarthy, PQ Contributing Editor
Everyone I Love Is A Stranger To Someone
Write Bloody Publishing
Paperback, 80 pages
Encountering a book as self-aware and honest as Annelyse Gelman’s Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone is a refreshing reminder we are strangers in a welcoming community of fellow strangers. There is a kind of maelstrom and chaos swirling around us all the time in absolute facts and in our own comforting neuroses.
I’ve been told the Earth is falling into the sun.
I’ve been told I’m a quick learner.
I’ve never stopped anything from becoming ash.
The last three lines in Gelman’s “Ars Poetica” illuminate the core of the book and essence of a poet’s heart—essentially we’re all a little doomed but not alone, we hope. It is a little paradoxical, tragically happy and happily tragic, but it is a universality that connects us when we are feeling alone, wanting to be alone, but needing to be reminded that after this feeling passes, we are not alone. Contained in Gelman’s collage of beautiful information, we are allowed to peek over the privacy fence of isolation to see that we are in this together.
Life is possible because we fall in its direction
and/or because we keep our distance.
We are falling. We have no control. It is not an idea we feel comfortable inhabiting all the time, but Gelman guides us in “Metaphor” as we fall, uncontrolled, through a galaxy larger than ourselves.
Our applause reminds us of our nakedness.
That was magical, we say, to dispel the magic.
Without magic or mystery, we would not exist, but at the same time it is dangerous to acknowledge. In general, admitting an unknown exists is unsettling. We acknowledge the dual, existential crisis as magic, as if to say “I made it magical. I have given this the power to harness that kind of power for myself.” It is a kind of reconciliation we make with ourselves to stay grounded. It takes guts; it takes a big heart; and most of all, it takes an open mind to accept the truth of Gelman’s metaphor. Whether or not we decide to applaud or call this life magical, it was the mystery and magic of life before our own lives that allowed us to do such a thing.
Magic reappears in a more specific and dire form of mortality later on in the poem “Fabulist.”
Before the diagnosis
I told my mother I believed in magic. I didn’t.
I believed it was what she needed to hear.
How can we believe in magic when illness and death will invariably consume everything? With that on the table, how are we supposed to understand anyone or be understood by anyone? Gelman repeatedly acknowledges her fear of being misunderstood and suffers from being lonely, which serves her poetry well. The availability of instability in a world where everything can be accessed instantly will alienate the best of us. We need poets like Gelman to constantly remind us of this. In her loneliness and her mother’s fear, she lies to her mother out of the need for truth. This is a redemptive act—we need to give and receive comfort.
Even if Gelman doesn’t believe in magic, there is enough self-awareness and demonstration of fragility in this book to let the readers decide if we want to receive a magical comfort from this poem. It is magic to feel connected, for at least a few seconds, before the wrecking ball crumbles the wall, before the alarm clock wakes us up, before we pass into other worlds.
We have such trouble letting go. Above the keening
branches, a smoldering of clouds. Even heaven
is not perfect. Even heaven aches to hold the Earth.
Heaven doesn’t want to be alone; even paradise is best when shared. The poem “Hurricane” helps us to pass into other worlds, sometimes within this world—new levels of awareness, acceptance, and most importantly empathy for shared loneliness. This book helps us love strangers. It calls to mind Plato’s idea, “Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone fights a hard battle.”
Narrative and surrealism at its finest, it avoids the nonsensical blather encountered in some contemporary surrealism by maintaining its relevance, succeeding in bridging the gap between person and loneliness. Everyone I Love Is A Stranger To Someone has the poignancy and presence of Dean Young and Mary Ruefle and carries as much of a hard-hitting punch of truth. Gelman took a risk being so transparent with her own life in such an accessible way. These words are magic. They are what we need to hear.