The title of Cheryl Dumesnil's latest collection, Showtime at the Ministry of Lost Causes, is like an irresistible flashing light, letting readers know that there's dark humor to be found inside. And yes, her poems twinkle with dark humor, but they are also candidly soulful, colorful and even sweetly sexy at times. Her poem, The Gospel According to Sky, explores cloud shapes, and how "the immutable blue holds those changing shapes, like a lover who's finally learned how to love her right." My heart soars at the idea of the sky holding the clouds like they are all the pieces of its cherished lover. But the line also feels a little bittersweet, and the reader wonders why the clouds were ever held the wrong way to begin with.
Dumesnil’s poems are dense with multiple layers, leaving the reader with many questions that invite much contemplation. But don't be misled by these multiple layers. She's not trying to keep anyone out with her poetry. Instead, most of her poetry is very accessible, and she uses the multiple layers like mind taffy, to draw you in and invite you to stay awhile. I enjoyed reading each poem a few times, chewing on meanings both subtle and neon obvious.
My favorite poem, Tampons: A Memoir, is powerful and touching. Spanning a whopping four pages, it's a long poem broken up into memories of Cheryl's journey and passage into womanhood and motherhood. What makes this mini memoir unique is the common theme and topic of tampons connecting the stanzas. Whether you blush madly at the utterance of that taboo word, or you have an open love/hate relationship with it and proudly unfurl "its white flag in the sky," there's a stanza in this poem you will connect with and unabashedly relate to.
She begins the poem with her first tampon encounter where she smokes it like a cigar in front her horrified mother. In the next stanza she identifies it as "the most underused craft supply in Martha Stewart's repertoire" and throws out a few hilarious ideas. She then puts the same wonderfully humorous and inappropriate spin on the mysteriousness of toxic shock syndrome before the poem takes a very serious turn with a stanza about her miscarriage. The ending of the poem still gives me chills, even after several readings, when she writes about her two-year-old, who stumbles upon a box of tampons and "sticks the tube between his lips: Look it's a smoke."
Show Time at the Ministry of Lost Causes is for anyone who appreciates dark and occasionally inappropriate humor, for those of us who applaud poetry that illuminates the ordinary and transforms it into magic. If you like Cheryl Dumesnil’s poetry you should check out Ellen Bass, Denise Duhamel, Tony Hoagland and Sharon Olds.