Review by Nancy Gerber
– Reading Tsaurah Litzky’s newest collection of poems, Cleaning the Duck, is like partaking of a sumptuous feast, with words that are juicy, tender, salty, piquant. When I finished reading I was stuffed, but I wanted more.
The title poem contains many of the themes that simmer throughout this book: desire, loss, pleasure, lust, sorrow, loneliness. “Cleaning the Duck” is both ode and elegy, a celebration of living, a bowing before death, and an acknowledgement of all the beauty and messiness we encounter on the journey:
then with the knife I cut the chest,
separated the flaps of breast,
the lungs opened out like morning sunrise,
blue sky fading pink, rose, red, ruby, gold,
the heart of fire, the heat of birth,
the ribs reaching out with shy baby fingers.
Later we cooked the duck, it tasted like chocolate.
Life is like the newborn baby, beautiful, and also cloaked in blood.
A series of poems pay humorous homage to William Blake, Litzky’s father’s favorite poet. Blake haunts the speaker like an alter ego or a nasty teacher during a visit to Amsterdam: “You want to catch the truth/like a beam of light/between your legs,/try as you will to use your sex like a crutch,/in the earthly world you will never get enough.” In the speaker’s imagination, Blake sounds like part lecherous old man, part Hasidic sage. The Blake poems capture the cacophony of Brooklyn’s voices meeting the voice of the divinely inspired soul. In “Blake at Brighton Beach,” Blake journeys to the speaker’s homeland and picks up a zoftig Russian blonde in a black string bikini. Need I say more?
I was deeply touched by the poems about Litzky’s father, who is crippled in body and later in mind. In “Jerry in Assisted Living,” the poet sees that her father’s sphere has shrunk to the size of a ten by twelve room. He places a telephone bet on the Ravens/Steelers game, and, for a “New York minute,” he is happy again. In “Jerry in Dementia,” the locked-in world of the patient and the locked-out world of the daughter are embodied in this beautiful stanza: “Today I came to tell you I love you/and I always will/but no one can find your hearing aid/and you can’t hear a word I say.”
There are poems celebrating the body and its pleasures. In “Come Poem,” eros is the antidote to the emptiness of our consumer culture:
I come into the first century of a new millennium,
I orgasm in times of farcical immoral government, faux, mass-
market spirituality, …
I come floating up into the air like a prayer,
I come because coming is still a revolutionary act.
In “Springtime,” flowers are a metaphor for desire: “peonies make me want a lover,/make me want my body/opening into summer heat.” In “Utopia Poem,” sexuality is once again envisioned as subversive and healing: “In my utopia,/cunnilingus will be considered free speech…/Compassion will be the only true religion,/all body types will be fashionable,/public officials will get enemas twice a week.”
These poems are deeply personal yet open and inviting, and often very, very funny. You must taste them yourself. Let them slide down your throat again and again, like rich red wine.
Cleaning the Duck by Tsaurah Litzky
Bowery Books 2011
Nancy Gerber is the author of Losing a Life: A Daughter’s Memoir of Caregiving. Her poetry and prose have been published in The Mom Egg, Adanna, ninepatch, the Journal of Aging, Humanities and the Arts, and other journals.