Pamela J. Gonzalez,
Climbing the Wreckage
(Owl Mountain Muses, 2003)

Pam Gonzalez, who lives in northern Colorado, is a poet and pastor. So it is not surprising to find spiritual concerns an important aspect of her poetry. Climbing the Wreckage is a wide-ranging book though with direct observations of everyday life at home and during visits to Nicaragua. These are a springboard to sensitive reflections, always captured in an assured, poetic voice. The poems are challenging, sometimes difficult, but will repay those prepared to unlock their meaning.

The book is divided into three sections: "Counting the Casualties," "Searching for Survivors" and "Erecting Memorials."

Three poems about Nicaragua are particularly impressive. "Running From Volcanoes" depicts a museum that preserves memories of lives lost in a volcanic eruption: "footprints in the mud have turned to stone." The first two verses describe the scene while the last moves on to wider conclusions about human existence such as "As for us, our modern eruptions are ceaseless." The poem concludes both bleakly and powerfully: "We run from volcanoes into a trackless future / overshadowed by the still smoking past."

Another dark poem is "At Coyotepe" about the site of a secret jail during the Somoza regime. The poet sees herself here as "a tourist through hell." The visit confirms the existence of a place that was not meant to exist at all. "Manana En Nicaragua" has a glossary of Spanish words and repeats the same line -- "when manana rises again just like today" -- at the end of each of the six stanzas creating a hypnotic effect. The poem describes a bread vendor, children, volcano victims, a lizard and mothers of the disappeared before looking at children playing in the wreckage of a "shot-down / cargo plane." This last image is captured too by the book's cover photograph. The poem asks the reader to "watch the faces of the inocentes plot their guerras / and strip from the framework, fragments of future."

Two other poems make a particular impression. "Song of Songs Revisited" is an erotically charged love poem. It is described in the useful "Notes on the Poetic Forms" (to be found at the end of the book) as both an acrostic and found poem. The beginning letter of each line spells out the hidden message: "Pamela Loves Abelard." It is an emotion evoked through phrases taken from the Bible's "Song of Songs." Although this might sound an artificial device it is a poem which works incredibly well as biblical text becomes personal feeling: "All beautiful you are my darling; there is no flaw in you." Another strongly personal poem is "Return to Padre Island" describing terns, sand crabs and starfish. An original simile captures the terns: "Practiced beaks snatch mid-air crumbs / like toddlers coming to pick my pockets." Starfish are seen through the eyes of a 5-year old while litter on the beach is described as "remnants of civilization."

The most significant aspect of the island though is the poet's own link to the place: "I, too, wash up again, broken, upon the beach / of this misnomered nursemaid of my youth."

It is this type of individual stamp that is characteristic of the whole collection. Pam Gonzalez is an accomplished poet worthy of further reading.

- Rambles
written by Andy Jurgis
published 5 June 2004