Review by Valerie Wetlaufer
Taste of Cherry
By Kara Candito
University of Nebraska Press
Perfect Bound, 68 pages
Link to purchase
Reading Kara Candito’s book Taste of Cherry is like being slapped in the face and asking for more. From poems of uncanny childhood to adult journeys through Egypt, New York and Rome, the speaker in these poems is a flâneur, watching, participating, taking pleasure in the voyeurism and inviting the reader in, too.
Channeling Walter Benjamin, as if notifying us about what we are to expect with these poems, Candito writes in “Notes for a Novice Flâneur:”
Try to think of all this as a seduction.
A tourist trap or attraction . . . the self’s stuttering
between the holy pornography of martketplace
and passing glance.
And we are seduced, drawn in despite the flavor of danger on our tongues. We are warned about the hazards we will encounter from the book’s first sentence, in the poem, “Self-Portrait with an Ice Pick:”
Imagine the impact—wrecking ball, welcome
injury or collision, like some secret screamed
in a late night taxi.
Those screamed secrets fill this book, winner of the 2008 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. And Candito gives no directions on how we are to proceed, nor forewarns what personas we may encounter along the way. Faulkner’s Caddy, Margaret Atwood’s Gilead and the cast of Carnivale show up in chilling exactness. On the next page, the speaker is a child, discovering her father’s porn collection; then we are in one of the many poems in the voice of a lover, navigating allure and betrayals, though hardly in a manner we could anticipate. There is something incantatory and polymorphous in this book; we are hypnotized, besotted, and we want to follow along with the speaker, past the end of the poem.
In my favorite poem “Epic Poem Concerning the Poet’s Coming of Age as Attis,” Candito displays her talent for transforming her subject, playing with gender, and calling on elements as diverse as ancient mythology and popular culture to create a poem that is visually stunning, uncomfortable, hilarious and smart. We journey alongside the speaker as he charts his life, ridden along the rim of peril, from a childhood spent “genuflecting before the TV” watching the last scene of Easy Rider, “until the world dissembles like air after / an apology … Burst of body and fire and metal” to his incestuous, furtive observation of his sister undressing:
Why do I watch her? Worship is the word
my mother used once. That was before.
One night, they catch me. It’s funny, really—my father beating me for wanting to fuck
my sister. He cannot say, Son, I know you
want to fuck your sister. After this, I lookat naked magazines. But every night before
I fall asleep, I see her. My love stuck inside
the body of my sister, curled like smokefrom a bashful chimney. My beautiful girl
waiting, wanting me. She doesn’t know yet
the shape of my face in the dark.
For this speaker, as for the speaker of all Candito’s poems, words are “brave and red, / made of what we hide. Words bleeding out onto the dry, brown lawn.” Words are not for healing or wooing, but for fighting, mystifying. No one holds our hand here; sentiment a foreign thing. We mingle with Rimbaud, Magritte, Benjamin. Each poem turns us on, tosses us aside and dares us to turn the page. We can’t help but comply; what comes next? We are not guests in this world any longer, we belong here too, seated beside the speaker, feeling the poet’s breath on our neck, as we hold our own, bated.
“The Poet’s Coming of Age as Attis” ends raw and body-present, yet displaying a now-familiar loose temporality, with a chilling declaration, that could be the book’s anthem:
I roll down the hill beside the river.
Gravity, it grinds my bones.
Time saws off. Nothing here,but truth and hot.
Valerie Wetlaufer is a PhD student and Vice-Presidential Fellow at the University of Utah. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in La Fovea, Melusine, Word Riot, Poemmemoirstory and Bloom. You can find her online here.