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As a gay man, it’s not easy to admit falling in love with a dyke, but that’s precisely what happened to me when I read Gerry Gomez Pearlberg’s debut volume of poetry, Marianne Faithfull’s Cigarette. Those poems, which won the 1998 Lambda Literary Award, are alternately delicate and rambunctious, jagged and smooth. Pearlberg’s sophomore outing, Mr. Bluebird, displays wondrous variety and sometimes overwhelming depth as she examines lusting after her natural surroundings and, with equal verve, other human beings.
Pearlberg can describe outdoor pleasures with childlike simplicity. “Camperdown Elm,” about a favorite tree, conveys winsome softness: “The energy here is particulate,/a forever shifting shadow./It covers you, leaves/you naked, a flannel shirt to/button and unsnap, picture perfect.” When Pearlberg crashes together nature and romantic obsession, she brings a lingering tension to her bucolic interests. “Another Story” begins with her own struggle to create art from what she sees, and then shifts, elegantly but decisively, to a romance nearing its end: “It’s a race to see who’ll move on first./I hope it’s me./Because I don’t want to be/around to see what happens/if it turns out to be you.” “City of Suchness” observes the confusion of modern life in one stanza—”Every day the papers said things you couldn’tbelieve:/That Pepsi underwrote the Pope’s World Tour”—and the restlessness of romance in another: “Once, in the candlelight of your room,/beneath peeling, centipeded ceilings, you/let me hold you. And for that hour you were calmness in my arms.”
Pearlberg invents dialogue with winning friskiness, notably in her imagined exchange between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas: “It is good for a man/not to touch a woman.” Her luxuriant long poems (especially the ghostly, imagistic “Inside the Hour”) are a treat because her wandering mind and eye allow our minds and eyes to do the same. “Admission” is about the author’s coming to terms with her own fluctuating memories of a former relationship. One stanza is broken apart like the romance itself: “I foamed in/my wickedness, phoned in/my love to you for a buck/a minute.” The poems here do just the opposite—full of tactile sensations, they don’t merely phone in their love, but take the time to make that call matter.