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).