The Parable of Fire

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Selected Reviews for
The Parable of Fire

“[T]hroughout this exemplary collection, the actual is perceived in all its four dimensions: the three that are described by the physical world, and the fourth which lies just behind and is described only by the noumenal eye.…

The plain-spoken poet offers us many fine works here, many of these brief lyrics that immediately capture a sentiment, an idea, an odd moment in time.…  [E]ven a casual conversational style does not come without hard labor. In these poems, the labor is of course invisible to us. We have only these jazzy lines: poems that are enjoyable and, in several instances, significant.”
—Frederick Smock, American Book Review

“The poems in The Parable of Fire are strong and full of a hyperbole which, in less capable hands, would parody themselves, but which Reiss uses to spirit the poems even in their darkest hours. They are sensual and witty poems that speak of real and imagined experience. And even though one sees Reiss’s real-life salt-top reflected in the total eclipse’s / frost-white corona, what makes this book picking up is that you’ll quite possibly recognize your own experience as well.”
—Mike Chasar, Dayton Daily News

“Joining in the spicy and sensual…in The Parable of Fire, his brilliant and buoyant third collection, Reiss spans Mexico, Israel, ancient Rome and Central Park, traveling through real and imagined time.  The common thread is characters with balls and spirit, raging against natural and emotional disaster.”
—Susan Shapiro, St. Petersburg Times

“From the dark ruminations of ‘Castrati in Caesar’s Court’…and ‘Memorial Quilt, Central Park’…to the hard-boiled nostalgia of ‘Mexico’…Reiss imagines himself into situations rich with the bitterness of loss or deprivation. The volume concludes on a positive note, however, with one of Reiss’s best poems, ‘Eclipse the Dark/ My Fiftieth Birthday: July 11, 1991,’ in which his fear of aging and death is transformed into a celebration of ‘the light which surrounds us / and comes from within us’—a conclusion that confirms the close attention Reiss pays the world in even the collection’s darkest explorations.”
Publishers Weekly

Eclipse the Dark
My Fiftieth Birthday: July 11, 1991

(for my mother)

1

The highway pocked with potholes crossed
a sun-beaten plateau, past goats
herded by boys with slingshots,
and men with machetes strapped to their backs
riding burros on the berm.

If that was the royal road from Zacatecas,
I was king for the day, Señor Reyes
in Ray-Bans, singing “Las Mañanitas”
to myself as I jounced
through towns in my rented car.

I had skimmed through four generations
by noon, recalling my maternal great-grandpa
Obadiah had outridden stop signs
and lived to be a hundred and two.
Now the one-o’clock sky loured;

clouds deepened, amber to umber; shadows
showered mesquite, Joshua trees,
till a false twilight stalled
over a dog baring fangs, stretched
dead in the opposite lane,

and I caught myself in the rearview mirror,
squinting at the penumbral
haze beyond my headlights:
green in the dashboard’s glow,
I was halfway home.

2

That black plateau under a skyful of stars,
when I parked, looked like the floor
of a crater greater than I’d ever seen—
as if I could crawl up its walls
to the Milky Way’s rim

and study every wrinkle
and river in the Earth’s dark caldera.
From a Pemex truck stop I craned
for a glimpse of the total eclipse’s
frost-white corona, with prominences,

quarter-million-mile-high
mega-headed fire storms
against a midnight backdrop. The middle age
of a less-than-average superstar
had a dowdy glamor.

In umbral shade I knew
The Woman in the Moon, with a chiseled
profile, whom the Orientals
noticed aeons ago,
was no vestal señorita.

I knew that she and the sun in missionary position
rode the zodiac’s pale divan
in fullness once a month, conceiving tides,
the moods of politicians, lunatics
in love with power and light.

3

Moon-shadowed, I wanted to do a hat
dance with Cassiopeia
in stately lazy eights
across a sequined floor
a thousand light years wide,

to wave a red cape at Taurus
and shout Olé, jigging
to a quasar’s blips, as if one moment of truth
could drive a sword
through a dilemma’s horns.

Below galactic nebulae
I wanted to feel neutrinos comb
through my thinning hair
and believe that I was a bald eagle
devouring a snake,

that I was the coffin clasping the corpse
and the womb embracing the fetus,
that my face, round as the Aztec calendar,
was—Montezuma—ageless.
For seven earthly minutes

in darkness I wanted to believe
that I flew at more than light speed
so fast I viewed the past:
the bang, the blaze, the breast
of the new sun suckling planets.

4                                                      

Mother, I used to believe you would turn
Quetzalcoatl’s tail feather
into a pen to write the Great American Novel.
You played “Cielito Lindo” on the guitar
and said the sky was so pretty

over Acapulco that your novel would end
with the words of a widow
at dusk: “Mira el sol.”
I borrowed that line in a poem. My dreams
were more vivid back then than my waking days.

But fifty revolutions around a star
eclipsed the dark and made me see
that I could take up your pen
and harness the horse-headed
sun to a thought that set out

aeons ago to brighten on this page,
to flare like a meteor here:
that the light which surrounds us
and comes from within us—false
dawn flooding ditches,

drenching herders, goats—
is a fountain of youth
wherein we shine,
primeval Mother Earth,
shine all the way home.