This Week, I Read Tomasz W. Wiszniewski: Death is a White Balloon

Image credit: Laura Carrasco Morón via Unsplash

“Imagining basic progressions: liquid to gas, art to patron, chair to ottoman, follicle to coat, heaven to mind to boat to heaven. Is going not all where the time goes?” the speaker says in Tomasz W. Wisniewski’s poetry chapbook, Death is a White Balloon. The pieces in the book are wrapped up in progressions–they seem to move radiate outward from where they begin, ending up in places that are surprising and unexpected, however, have also been planned with a keen poetic eye to detail–the effect is both interesting and haunting. The pieces in this book feel like a fever dream. Each idea tumbles into the next, in verse that is lovely and eloquent.

The poem, “Misnebalam” is particularly interesting. Its title comes from the name of a ghost town, which is located outside of Merida, Mexico. There’s a definite space that the poems reside–where the spiritual world and the physical world interact.

“I stop, in the middle/of a crowded pedestrian/ crossing,” the speaker says. I’d like to think that this indicates that the town is full of ghosts. That they’re walking around the town, somewhere beneath the surface. However, it could also be discussing a current city, one which is full of people who act like ghosts. With the current technology-obsessed society that we live in, this is pretty accurate.

The poem then spirals (almost immediately) into a fever dream:

“I recall saltines/for toes, flying rhinos deemed/parking. Towering facades/of whitewater gleam,” the speaker says, setting the tone.

“My feet feel sleepy, and/ the rocks on my tendons/ are like snails capering up a/ stray pitted potato.” I know this isn’t a sonnet, but this part feels like the fulcrum of the poem–where the piece makes this radical shift, to focus wholly on the potato, instead of the speaker, standing in the crosswalk.

“This potato rests on a blade/ of grass…” the speaker says. Here, the reader is taken somewhere else entirely. The flow of ideas trickles into this particular image. I’m not quite sure why I’ve been brought here, but I really like the final few stanzas of the poem.

“With eyes aslant I look:/one stray potato/rising, rising/off the grass.”

The sudden hyperfocus on the potato is certainly a surprise, but it’s one that is unexpected in a good way. It’s whimsical. A little whimsy makes life (and poetry) interesting. Wisniewski’s work is highly nuanced and really delightful. The collection itself is really impressive, in terms of wordplay and originality. I highly recommend Death is a White Balloon, which is available through Bywords.

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