On reading Wendy Taylor Carlisle’s “On the Way to the Promised Land Zoo”

As children we want the world; as adults we want a grasp over mistakes. With time the illusory idea of identity subsides for convenience into the “false sense of safety… side effect of everyday agony" (“On the Way to the Promised Land Zoo” p2).

The maker’s sense of conversation, space, creatures, habits and icons makes for a pleasant tone in the book (by maker I mean someone with a sense of concision in detail), bittersweet like dark chocolate, lemons and grapefruit. Set in four chapters: “The Beagle,” “Wonder Woman,” “Atlanta is Burning,” and “No One Will Know You,” it follows a thematically steady, Sisyphian-like progression. The author is a master of proportion, a noteworthy quality, so that the bulk of the main theme (loss) and the other themes are revealed almost like video fades. The lines are clear, simple, precise, eloquent and politely unforgiving.  

The first chapter, “The Beagle,” steadies the book. One can be deceived by the simplicity of the poems at times; Wendy Taylor Carlisle’s cynicism makes the writing’s lyricism almost unnoticed. Underneath the lines’ pleas, you’ll find cloaked accusations-against, disdain, love, and anger; the subtle beauty, the sharing of heart, are audible to a fraternal ear in these wonderful descriptions of the quotidian maze:

“Larry cuts stone in a humming cloud
of birds. It is hot. He is patient. The birds
are hungry. They zoom around him
like animate drones as the patio emerges
from a jumble of rock. How does he do it?
Patiently, with string and level. I am
confounded by this skill, being an expert
in the surface cut only, in splinter removal,
in the self-inflicted wound. Larry’s saw

(“Cuts” p12)

The poems are graced with smooth flute-like transitions. Chapter 2, “Wonder Woman,” takes us through pangs of femininity, the tear shed for Aphrodite, notably in the poems “Wonder Woman” and “Wonder Woman at Forty: a Quatorzain”:

“I have been in training not to be frail, / I had some imperfect role models. / Their lives were nothing to emulate, /… / I wore / the Bracelets, properly called, / The Bracelets of Submission, until I figured out / they were my strength, my bulletproof. /… / Great Aphrodite! / I transformed.” (“Wonder Woman” p24)

“but the minute you caught onto / the strength of Superman plus… / / the allure of a good and beautiful woman, / you dropped Diana Prince’s golden Lasso, / the doe-eyed gaze and toned torso. / / No more need for Cartoon and costume / Bare and apocalyptic, you began.” (“Wonder Woman at Forty: a Quatorzain” p25)

In the third chapter, the idea of loss firmly sets anchor:

“This is not a goose feather armchair song / not a lyric made up of your momma’s / Repousse. This isn’t some verse about / stepping out of a too-tight sequined dress, / your silk pillow in an Oklahoma motel. / This song is about being the last / board standing in a falling-down house / (Lights up)” (“Atlanta is Burning (Stage Version)” p32).

Space and time are shrinking “the one ring reminds a crowd to celebrate, / each in their own constrained and special / way, the emptiness we’ve come in / the spaces where the other things should be.” (“The Circus of Inconsolable Loss” p40).

Wendy Taylor Carlisle offers a glimpse at the widening shade, a view of the daily grimace, with a lightness of pen that makes the song of grief palpable, even savored.

In the last chapter “No one will know you,” loss, and more precisely, the loss of her mother (mentioned in a few poems in both chapters 3 and 4) dissolves into nostalgia and contemplation; the author shares, confesses, a self-loving, self-serving ego:

“In his name, / what does she want? / / Only to read sheen into rust (glitter), only to / be done with abstraction (desire) and any / unspecific sin (greed). She longs for carnage” / (“Ferrous” p55).

But these confessions are to a beloved, to a fraternal ear, the ear that loves and grows with. On the Way to the Promised Land Zoo (Cyberwit.net, 2019) makes room for warmth while accepting futility with balance:

“There is only one rope for everybody in this
story who wishes to be pulled to safety.
One drives.                        The other drives.
                 Nobody swerves.”

(“On the Way to the Promised Land” p66)



Darryl / Dadou / Baron Wawa

Darryl / Dadou / Baron Wawa is a Port-au-Prince born Haitian-American who studied Photography and Creative Writing. He enjoys chocolate and good books. That said, maybe a movie is a good book. He loves to work with images and words and their pairing.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Saturday, April 11, 2020 - 16:19