Exploring Modern Magical Realism

E M E R G I N G   P O E T   S E R I E S
Kelly Madigan Erlandson
b y   t a m a r a   s e l l m a n   ~   M A R G I N

"MAGICAL REALISM pays homage to the inherent mysteries regarding how the world works, acknowledging there is much we still don't know about the interrelationships that operate around and through us every minute," suggests Nebraskan poet Kelly Madigan Erlandson. Her work takes into account these mysteries and the possibilities of their unraveling through less conventional means.

The Massachusetts-born poet has worked since 1983 as a drug and alcohol counselor, a good practice for unraveling the interior mysteries of the human condition (hers as well as others'). For outward mysteries, her pursuit in canoeing Nebraska's rivers—the Middle Loup, the Dismal, the Platte, the Missouri, and Elkhorn—likely provides additional insight and inspiration.

Erlandson's poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, Puerto del Sol, Hawai'i Review and South Dakota Review. Her aptly titled chapbook, Born in the House of Love, won the Main-Traveled Roads Award in 2004 and is forthcoming.

What makes the following of Erlandson's poems magical realist? She has a talent for rendering time as a character, giving it tangibility, sometimes flesh and blood markings. The structure of her poems is rendered from the organic, human reality she understands.

In "Why I Waited For You," it is the history spilled out on the surface of a parlor game. The transformation of truth into birth arrives on a skid of ice in "After the Test Said Yes." And a baby born with words in her mouth and dressed in a sweater embroidered with poems ("A Lie I Will Tell You") suggests an extraordinary personal legend in the making.

k e l l y   m a d i g a n   e r l a n d s o n   ~   l i n c o l n ,   n e b r a s k a


Stopped at the crossroad on 14th street, ice clean
as an apple slice under my wheels, I am waiting
for my turn and I don't know yet about looking back
which is why I cannot describe the color or make of what hit me,
moving too fast to brake on the black, and my blue Volkswagen
shoots out into oncoming lanes and once there begins to spin—
and that is where time slows, like they always say,
forming an opening in the day that was already thick with news.

The man comes to the car window,
wants to know if I'm okay, and I tell him I'm pregnant,
and I just found out this morning, and he looks like he will faint,
and I open the door and step out into the street,

and this, I believe, is the story of conception: how my daughter
used momentum and ice and velocity and impact
to pierce the atmosphere and enter the world.



It is recessed so completely, a nail head pounded below the board,
that when asked to recall my first house, its orange brick or blackening roof,
I see the house next door instead, or smell cinnamon dissolving
in morning light, a bridge that memory shuttles over and back like a late season
honey bee, dizzy with pollen from aster and rose of sharon.

The past is a cardboard carton filled with movie reels in gray canisters
that I work to pry open and play, the projector stuttering dust as the shot
of light shows the stolen features, full and dimensional against white slate.
But the film has deteriorated and everything soft is gone, leaving only
the street name, pop tops, fire ring. If I never remember, I was never there.

I was born in the house of love. I slept in a willow cradle. No baby ever
was smaller or more whole. I had words in my mouth, full and
smooth as rocks lifted from the river bed, and all around me the men and women
raised sticks, no, voices, raised voices in a chant I can almost hear in that
hammock of sleep just before waking. I wore a sweater embroidered with poems.

We know this isn't true. But truth is a rusting prop plane in the upper meadow
that has been grounded since the bank failed, or the crop, or the marriage,
and I cannot raise it from its ligature of trumpet vine. I do not see the place
I came from. The hammer's claw wedged under the edge of the nail head grinds
the wood beneath it until the grain is feathered. I was born in the house of love.


After Susan Elbe

Because in a hollow space in my twenties
a day turned over on itself like a sowbug
and I saw the curve of your full name.

Because when your mother
used her perfect penmanship
to document the first foods you tasted
the shadow of a woman
whose head and neck were shaped like mine
pressed against the page.

Because when I rowed the wooden boat
on the lake at night until my arms tired
a magnificent bird just above me
let loose one long wing feather into the hull
and I knew you were coming.

Because when our fingertips rested
on the marker of the Ouija board
it spilled out a history
we knew we could claim.

When it asked our intentions
my pores filled with scent from an orchard
long ago axed and burned. Still, the cherry blossoms
made a bed for us, familiar as my own tongue
resting on the back of my teeth.

Every long day behind me
left in a row like a trail I could follow backwards,
I hunted the dark roads for you before I knew I knew you,
because the porch swing wanted your weight,
the dog whined for your love-voiced direction,
the cherries waited for the warmth
of your open, then closing, mouth.



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