Poetry Review: How to photograph the heart

When I sit down and read a book of poetry, I do so hoping for two things.  First, I want to be moved.  I want the poet to trick me into thinking they are talking directly to or about my experiences and my world.  The natural progression of that is—or should be—to make me think carefully about those experiences and the world in which I live.  On the first read, I never want to be thinking about the literary devices and techniques the poet has used, and while I don’t want to be reaching for a dictionary, I also don’t want to be able to guess the next word of every line. You could say that I have high expectations.  After three years of reading Christine Klocek-Lim’s work, I always know that she’ll meet or exceed them.  Her chapbook How to photograph the heart from The Lives You Touch Publications is no exception.

On the surface, this is a book about relationships, a relatively common theme in poetry.  However, this book stands out because the relationships are approached in new and interesting ways.  In the title poem, the narrator watches the death of a loved one, acknowledging that:

“Your startled hands compressed
the shutter when you realized: this is it,
this is the last movement he will take
away from the silent fall of morphine,”

But later, in “Learning to Speak American,” Klocek-Lim notes that “We studied friendship for a year/before he described his escape from Poland.”  The poem as a whole studies friendship through the catalyst of language while also adding a touch of social commentary, and “Twenty-year love poem” is one part love poem, two parts discussion of socioeconomics.  Poems like these show the reader that they are not reading a book about relationships.  They are reading a book about the form that life takes after being molded by those relationships, an altogether different theme from poetry-as-usual.

A hallmark of Klocek-Lim’s work, How to photograph the heart isn’t shy on literary devices or unique phraseology.  In “How rain arrives,” she captures a relationship in its entirety with a few simple lines: “You couldn’t have known/how you’d sewn guilt/into your end of the conversation,/scratchy and strange the way/a mended sheet rubs/on a bare foot at dawn.”

But it is the final poem in the collection, “My heart beats against the ground,” that best illustrates her capacity for language with lines like:

When the clock stops, a broken tree reveals
how damage is writ in circles: each one a year’s orbit.

This poplar hasn’t grown a heart that old.

Indeed, these are the moments that keep me coming back to poetry time and time again, and to her poetry in particular.  Klocek-Lim reminds me of an existence shared, forever “unraveling months too early.”