Review: Sabrina Benaim’s I Love You, Call Me Back (Plume/Penguin Random House)
I’m partial to poets who listen to enough music to end up sounding like it. That quality makes up one of ILYCMB’s enduring gifts, such that you may find yourself rediscovering/redefining your own inner sense of rhythm as you sway and dip from line to line. And I don’t mean because of rhyme schemes, or formal experiments, though those abound and delight; rather, it’s Benaim’s skill at teasing the poetry out of everyday speech, combining conversational intimacy with images in the business of softening hearts into being washed over by what ails them.
All I’ve ever wanted was to come home to a spoonful of honey / asleep in a soft bed / while a cool breeze from the ceiling fan / stirs our exhales together & then up / into the room, where I fall asleep / & do not dream of dying – “Song of Rediscovering Myself”.
The main aim of this combination makes up another slow-release gift, which is a drive to compile and cherish anything that helps us reconcile with impermanence, how the world we know, our particular slice of it, cannot escape the inevitability of an ever-changing roster. The list, which might include crying, coffee, music, flowers, weed, writing and reading, add your own, is a reminder of what makes the project of you a worthy endeavor. It’s about having lived just enough to see hints of someone you want to become and holding onto them like the life rafts they sometimes are. It’s about guarding the meaning/direction/solidity you’ve been able to glean from the world knowing the sources of it aren’t always going to be around to supply more.
I think whatever keeps you moving forward might be the same thing keeping you alive – “A Dream // A Memory”.
There is awe and desperation in these poems at how haunting it can be to live with the echoes of who we were, to borrow from “In the Spirit of Being Real”, as well as reckon with the echoes we have yet to create out of versions of ourselves we have yet to meet, internalize and let fade into time. The collection is an emotional landscape of how hard it is to get comfortable when the foundations of our identities turn out to be removable and temporary, and we are left scrambling to retouch the picture into a workable alternative we still recognize.
Sometimes waking up is like falling back asleep into my favorite dream. It rains, I forget there are clocks, sit on the stoop and read poetry. When the man calls me, he addresses love and I recognize he is talking to me. I recognize myself as love – “Ode to Purple Summer”.
I think the deep level of psychic mining that goes on in ILYCMB, and how Benaim often sings it, belts it into a kind of gospel for joy and compassion for imperfection, is effective because she doesn’t use the dense language of “canon-worthy” work to convey it; rather, she opts for an accessible stroll, or shimmy, through a no less lush and timeless reading experience, one grounded in navigating the overwhelm of balancing love, death and expectations between but one pair of eyes, and magically finding an abundance of moments worth keeping.