Larissa Nash grew up in the Everglades and spent many summers in Ohio and Hawaii. She holds a B.A. from Loyola University New Orleans and an M.F.A. from Pacific University. Her hobbies include rain-dancing and soothsaying. Larissa has participated in several of Francesca Lia Block's online workshops, and she is the founding editor of Rose Red Review. Her work has appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, December Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Toast. She currently lives in Georgia.
Song of the Moment: Kings of the Highway
Author Archives: Larissa
Night Songs by Kristina Marie Darling
Night Songs is a lovely, haunting collection: each piece flows into the next, the way music settles into the corners of a room during intermission. Kristina Marie Darling has crafted poems about music that move like ghosts: each poem a note of music that seems to chime in my ears long after it has become inaudible. There is a sense something has been forgotten. I drift through these poems, pressing my palms into wallpapered rooms. I can hear the slamming of blue shutters. What have I forgotten? “Outside, the evening [opens] like a black umbrella” (9).
Night Songs is the sort of poetry collection I seek out. In Of Human Bondage, W.S. Maugham writes:
Now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me….there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there. (413)
This collection is one such flower: a pale, frosted rose. The gorgeous, atmospheric poems skirt the edge of the subconscious and rumble when read aloud. As I read Night Songs, I wander the halls of an abandoned building that somehow feels familiar.
The first section consists of prose poems, linked by a twinkling chain of images: a cello, teeth, windows, an old opera house, wings, a hum, the moon, foliage, applause. These poems are strange and dreamy, without seeming intentionally so. There is a whisper of restlessness, quietly mimicking the way the poems seem to echo:
You walk past a crystal decanter glistening near the harpsichord. Since our guests left for the ocean, with its dark enclaves and its low mumbling, the lakes have done nothing but rain. And our dim halls become more cavernous with every evening. When I ask why the rooms buzz with damselflies, you merely nod your head. The shutters blow open and closed. Our parlor hums like trees shifting before a storm. (16)
At this point in my reading, I realized the poems glisten. The crystal imagery is appropriate: the words make me think of the clink of a decanter stopper. Darling is adept at using language to create entire scenes of onomatopoeia. The images help me hear the sounds of the moment before I form a clear picture of it in my head. In “ENNUI,” I can literally hear the speaker’s boredom.
Certain poems are mysterious. “THE TENOR” suggests a woman swept away by song and memory:
It’s evenings like these I think he’s singing again, all diaphragm and gusto, his arms outstretched with the dark blue notes of La Bohème. Even the crystal begins to hum. Yet when the chorus starts up, crooning languidly into the greenish night, a colorless moon hangs speechless in every window. The only sound—a beveled mirror shuddering in its frame. Then the room grows still like a little bell chiming on the hour. (24)
Section II is experimental: a collage of text borrowed entirely from Victorian guides to music appreciation. I would not have realized it, had I not read the notes. Darling has arranged the text in a way that sounds remarkably like her own voice. I particularly enjoy this piece:
the very nature of cleverness,
which renders it liable
to mislead itself
or other people.
Confront it with something indescribable—
that lies within the husk of things
possesses its ruin—
as if a spider should mesh his legs— (48)
The text does not seem old-fashioned; instead, it adds to the collection’s otherworldly tone.
The third section consists of a series of poems that sound like snippets of the first section’s poems as they echo in a room with a vaulted ceiling. The placement of the words on the page mirrors the collage poems of Section II:
The music begins & I think of
its tangled heart. O
yellow moon, nerve wracked
song like a house,
The entire collection of night songs is a strange, ethereal symphony in three movements. “As the lady sings, light in her hair becomes a constellation, its points aligned in the pale November sky….[Kristina Marie Darling] sings and sings” (14).
by A. R. Ammons:
“Tape for the Turn of the Year.”
I feel a bit foolish.
“book-length” meant book-length—
except I had no idea of the meaning.
I confess: on some level,
“book-length” meant novel.
How could I have been so wrong?
I still think in terms of character development—
of conflict. The tip
of an iceberg.
Poetry is different. I know this.
I have my own muse. When I was sixteen,
I called her
Louisa. Did I really mean
Larissa? Some shadow self?
Louisa was a ghost. A flapper
from New Orleans. She had backstory.
I drank watered-down coffee
in Denny’s at 3 AM
and scribbled in pale yellow crayon
on glossy postcards. I couldn’t read
my own words.
The Muse matters.
because I’ve decided, the
to do this foolish
a fool who
plays with fool things….
I’m attracted to paper,
visualize kitchen napkins
with little masterpieces:
it was natural for
this roll of
adding machine tape. (2-3)
I understand this fascination.
I understand what Ammons
has set out
I feel a bit different:
When I searched Google
for book-length poems,
I had a particular book-length poem
by Toby Barlow.
It’s about werewolves
Still, it reads like
Ammons mentions Odysseus, but there
is nothing epic
about his poem, and he
knows it. Simply put,
he wanted to keep a journal
on a roll
of adding machine tape.
It reads like poetry
because of forced line breaks—
crumbled sentences confined
by lack of space—and because Ammons, a poet,
[he] can’t tell a great
story: if [he] were
Odysseus, [he] couldn’t
I have been unfair. So, too, has Ammons.
His month-long sliver of recorded life
is anything but dull. It is often
broken by keys:
* * *
* * * *
* * *
There is a plane crash. Ammons discusses
identity. Reality. The weather.
I long for story.
There are shapes. Why not
How might I classify
Like Ammons, “I’m having
this conversation with a
piece of paper” (46).
Would Ammons and Joyce
have been friends?
This napkin has nothing
I wonder what Louisa
would have to say? Is she acquainted
Not much has changed
since December 1963, when Ammons
wrote this piece
on adding machine tape. The Earth continues to warm.
It storms. There is love.
Does “Tape for the Turn of the Year” have meaning?
I suspect Ammons
is a deconstructionist,
even though I’m not entirely sure
what that means.
(I’m not writing
on a napkin, though no one would believe me
if I were.)
Ammons loses steam—he types one word per line
in one section
on 14 Dec. He knows his project
is more novelty
Perhaps he wants to seem a deconstructionist.
Does he simply want
to keep a journal
on a roll of adding machine tape?
is a new
There is no red ink. There is no tape.
This commentary isn’t
emptiness: it may
not be unlike
in voyages, there
are wide reaches
with no islands: (204)
I dreamt there was a huge earthquake near L.A. I was on the beach at the time, with my roommate. As the earthquake occurred, I thought about the poem I wrote about a month after I left L.A. (“and I said, / ‘At least I won’t be on the beach / during a quake.'”)–the one I wrote the night before a small quake occurred, the epicenter directly beneath my old apartment in Pomona. The water whooshed backward, and I told my roommate we had to run to our hotel and get “to the second floor, at least.” Once inside, I decided to rescue our cats. They were on the 18th floor. I ran up the stairs, with a container of cat litter. I had to find different stairwells to take, because there was a lot of damage. I helped a few people along the way (one girl’s name was “Denver”), and then hotel waitstaff helped me access secret stairwells (but not without making a snide remark about how good it must feel “to get [my] exercise in”). Everything was white and looked very art gallery, despite the damage and burst pipes. When I reached the 18th floor, I had to walk up an Escher-like stairwell (with 80s pink carpeting). “18l” and “18rn” were written on a sign. I had to cross a ballroom/lounge area to reach a glass door leading to the rooms. Someone was having a 30th birthday party, and I thought, “I’m 36–no, 33–but I remember 30!” The carpet here looked like the carpeting in an 80s bowling alley (bright colors, confetti-like). Someone asked me what was wrong, and I distinctly felt as though the party was for “Denver.” I couldn’t see any damage. On the glass door, “80th Floor.”
Very strange. My brain apparently likes numbers.
I can’t recall the exact night I dreamt this dream, but I know I dreamt it before the flooding began in Colorado. Very spooky/unsettling.
I stood in a room with a floor-to-ceiling glass window. There was a blue couch. Someone had warned everyone to avoid going outside, as the water level of a nearby river had begun to rise. The water swirled against the window. I sat backward on the couch and rested my body against the cushions, in order to watch the river. It looked like a tropical marsh river. I saw sawgrass. I thought I was safe, but then I realized there wasn’t a window. I toppled into the river. I felt its force. I clawed at the back of the couch and finally managed to pull myself into the room. The couch acted as a dam, though water didn’t spill over the couch as the river rose above it. There seemed to be a sort of forcefield in place.
“And we will never be alone again…”
“Something so worthless
serves a purpose…”
“Baby, did you forget to take your meds?”
Drunk in Rio
“Baby, stay a while.
I just want to watch you breathe.”
20 Years in the Dakota
“They want to burn the witches inside us.”
What a strange, unsettling dream:
I died. I can’t remember how. After lingering in a brightly-lit Edwardian mansion (that had been modernized, with stainless steel appliances), I returned to my body, yet I remained in limbo. The house changed: in some rooms, I was in California; in others, my childhood home. I suspect two dreams bled into one another.
Being a ghost wasn’t so bad. I could still talk to everyone. I decided to return to my body, because I wanted to help someone I’ve since forgotten (I think it might have been Frances Bean Cobain, but that is odd). Once inside my body, one thought consumed me: beating the clock. I worried I would run out of time before I began to decompose. When I looked at myself in the mirror (I often look at my reflection in dreams, even though it’s “dangerous”/reveals “the true self;” I’M A REBEL!), my cheeks seemed sunken–my flesh, a bit yellow. I thought I looked bloated. When I left the bathroom (the master bathroom from my childhood home), my parents were waiting for me.
Mommy, I’m rotting.
“I know,” my mom said.
“No, you’re not! You look the same way you did before you died. No one will know the difference,” my dad said.
I’m sure the dream is a metaphor for my body image issues, but it scared me. I thought I could smell myself.
“And I warned them:
‘Embrace the storm and the night.’
What do the waves have to say now?”
Take You on a Cruise
“The sea will crowd us with lovers at night….
(I see that you’ve come to resist me….)
White goddess, red goddess, black temptress of the sea,
you treat me right.”
“Did I say that I need you?
Did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn’t, I’m a fool, you see.
No one knows this more than me.”
“The waiting drove me mad.
You’re finally here and I’m a mess.”
I found this amazing painting during my internet-questing and decided to share it.
It’s very Beauty and the Beast.
Take to the Sky
“My father says, ‘You ain’t makin’ any money.’
My doctor says, ‘You just took it to the limit.’
And here I stand, with this sword in my hand…”
“Still a little bit of your song in my ear.
Still a little bit of your words I long to hear…”
You can tell this woman is a witch, because her ankles are showing. (The brazen hussy! Only a witch would flaunt her ankles.) Even the cat is shocked!
This is how you live when you have a cold heart.
As I do: in shadows, trailing over cool rock,
under the great maple trees.
The sun hardly touches me.
Sometimes I see it in early spring, rising very far away.
Then leaves grow over it, completely hiding it. I feel it
glinting through the leaves, erratic,
like someone hitting the side of a glass with a metal spoon.
Living things don’t all require
light in the same degree. Some of us
make our own light: a silver leaf
like a path no one can use, a shallow
lake of silver in the darkness under the great maples.
But you know this already.
You and the others who think
you live for truth and, by extension, love
all that is cold.
“If only I could fill my heart with love…”
I see it is with you as with the birches:
I am not to speak to you
in the personal way. Much
has passed between us. Or
was it always only
on the one side? I am
at fault, at fault, I asked you
to be human–I am no needier
than other people. But the absence
of all feeling, of the least
concern for me–I might as well go on
addressing the birches,
as in my former life: let them
do their worst, let them
bury me with the Romantics,
their pointed yellow leaves
falling and covering me.
I dreamt I said “ROFL” in real life:
Passing Stranger: “Did you just say ‘waffle?'”
Me: “No, I said ‘ROFL,’ like ‘roffle.'”
Passing Stranger: “It sounds like ‘waffle.'”
Me: “I guess it does!”
I wish I could write
Alas, my neurons communicate
in coded bursts
like a toddler who scribbles the wall
to show she loves you.