Tanya Contos – The Tide Clock and Other Poems. Reviewed by Barbara Bialick

(Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene: http://dougholder.blogspot.com – search for Contos. Barbara Bialick is the author of Time Leaves from Ibbetson Street Press.)

The beauty of The Tide Clock poems is the feeling you get as you undulate up through the lives of the people of the sea, where life and death are intrinsic to the scene (like shards of glass or a seal’s carcass)—then you sadly partake of the collectables and dryness of the landlocked, for whom death is sickening like a dead grandmother’s “mummy”-like wig in an attic found by a curious little boy. Similarly, “great grandmother cannot sleep…”as you lie on her old bed: “In her portrait she wears black bombazine/and a Byzantine virgin-martyr’s air of noble resignation.” In contrast, near the ocean: in “Midnight Swim”, “The new moon slices the sky like a scythe/and scatters its harvest of hundreds of stars/across the dark water in sight of the beach.”

As you end the book, you will probably feel compelled to start it all over again, as if it is the circle of life, for her ancestors, as well as a relative or a past love who died, with the tide recorded on The Tide Clock: “Until (everything could change, with a new man friend?) then your tide clock tells me/whether the rocks are submerged or exposed/at the spot on the point where they scattered your ashes.”

Even the family set of Dresden angels has suffered as they moved “for better than half a century in transit/in trunks of cars and holds of ships…the cellist and the violinist/contemplate their broken bows/as if there must be some mistake/…the only one intact/is the conductor/her perfect palm is raised/…she seems to say Look I know I know but play.”

In this intriguing collection, the author is the conductor, as she brings you these vignettes of ocean people, their “flotsam” and how they react to moving “off island”… She concludes along the way that “the land has a heartbeat as strong as the tide” as the old-timers and the almanac have said. “We take this on faith,/we listen anxiously, straining against the wind.”

But as she points out in her preface, she’s “someone who can barely breathe, much less write, more than a few miles from open water…” This would be a good book to take with you on a personal voyage to the sea, or to grab if you live there all the time.

The book’s glossy cover has a beautiful and mysterious orange figure rising up near an ocean (a painting by George Kordis) that is as fascinating to study as are the poems within.