The Other Half of the Dream by Cecil Helman. Quale Press.
Reviewed by Megan R. Summers
Have you ever woken up from a dream, unable to describe the miraculous events that have just transpired in your mind? They are merely images now quickly fading. You don't have the adequate words, the tools of language or description, the proper means to describe the indescribable. Yet Cecil Helman has accomplished just this in his collection of twenty-one prose poems, The Other Half of the Dream. He creates a beautiful blend of the surreal and the mundane, the fantastic and the quotidian. His poems are rooted in commonality, portraying familiar settings and images, but he quickly brings us into the world of his dreams where anything is possible. His is a world of exaggeration, distortion, and creativity.
In his opening poem “Half a cup of coffee,” we are sitting in a café, observing a vicious catfight between two women who are “ripping out each other's hair by the handful.” Two cellists wrestle close to our table. It is a poem of duality and of perspective. Is our imaginary cup half-empty or half-full? It is up to us to decide, and it is also our choice whether to enter this whimsical world or merely to observe from afar.
“That girl on the aeroplane” panders to our innate curiosity as the speaker begins to imagine about the girl sitting next to him on the plane. Is she an exotic beauty with a pet armadillo? Does she dream in “ancient Greek?” Amidst the banality of air travel, it is nice to slip into a world with these scenarios as possibilities.
An ancient map comes to life in “An antique map” and is personified by phrases such as “low, umbilical plains” and “intimate marshes.” We are witness to a living, evolving map of a world. It contains with it memory of travel and journey of the mind and is otherworldly with its “Volcanoes with fires that never melted, ice that never burnt.”
“Sitting alone at her table” is an amorphous beauty, a series of lives revolving around one name--Montanini. One woman embodies “succulent lips like a ripe Spanish tomato,” the history of a husband who was impaled by a clarinet, a tragically elegant criminal, a weeping widow hunted by the paparazzi. It is the dream of a familiar face and all the possibilities it entertains.
“The last waltz of Montanini” is a spectacular and frightening poem where a majestic ship disappears into the depths of the ocean. The imagery is cryptic yet surprisingly beautiful. The ship sinks to its watery grave, while the narrator realizes to his dismay that the “life-belts were made only of painted flour, and the life boats of papier-mâché.” As the ship sinks, it is becoming one with the water and its creatures. The narrator witnesses “Empty eye-sockets already filled with a colony of mussels and sea urchins as they turned towards me.” It is a nightmare realized; yet it is intriguing and picturesque like nightmares often are.
In “Less is more” a guru sits among his offerings, an enlightened presence. He is surrounded by the complications of life--wedding rings, paperwork, and other clutter. He is also surrounded by unique items--glass eyeballs, “anthologies of the dreams of dead orphans, bound in vellum.” He is at the center of awareness, and the narrator slowly surrenders to his simple wisdom.
The world is melting from an overwhelming, sweltering heat in “The ice maiden.” Poets are withering away, and their work is disappearing before their eyes. It is so hot that mirrors melt: “rivulets of their molten silver ran down the walls.” The poets' work is rendered meaningless as words burst into flames: “Love, hate, heart, spice, and even dream, were the first to ignite.” In the end, the narrator and his fellow poets are left with a pure nothingness.
In “Into the underworld,” the final poem of the collection, the author portrays the “fluorescent underworld” that is the subway. It is a mechanical, sterile yet unpredictable world. Passengers have “Eyes like empty windows, without any reflection.” Once again, the poem has a distinctly dreamlike quality.
Cecil Helman's poetry is an overindulgence of the senses. He carefully creates a picture full of intricate detail and well-crafted verse. Although some poems in the collection border on tedious and dull, such as “Aubergine” and “Again and Again,” he takes us into the depths of our subconscious, and his images resonate in our minds. Helman has mastered the task of creating dreams that are familiar yet unique, enchanting yet terrifying.