Reviewed by Sophie Chouinard
Face Painting in the Dark is a slow burn, a subtle gut punch that is well worth taking the time to savour and mull over. Ann’s take on womanhood throughout the age and ages is more often than not sharp, poignant and clever—she exposes the war paints we use to hide or reveal who we are as daughters (“Teint Pure Mat”), mothers/sisters/girlfriends (“Girls Night Out”, “Aspiration”,” Demoiselles 7″, “Shrapnel”), mentor/mentored (“Aspiration”), aunts/role models (“Shelter Island”), artists (“Confessional”), icons (“Still Life”), elderlies (“Forceps”), observers (“Nocturnal)”, pre-feminism era wives (“With Apologies to Anna Archer”) or even, as whores (“Demoiselles 7”). Ann Cefola draws with sensitivity and humanity the hopes, dreams and realities of being a woman, anywhere in the world, at any point in time.
While at first, one might not feel deeply the poems within due to a tone that might come off as too ethereal, a second and third reading truly reveals how strong the stories and emotions, hiding between each line, are.
As a translator, I absolutely loved “Aspiration”—a clever clin d’oeil to friendship through poetry and kindred spirits. The infinite puzzle that is the translation/adaptation process of someone else’s poetry, and how it can overtake the translator’s life. How someone else’s work, becomes ours, different, and the realisation that something new was created in the process:
Inside, with my dictionary, I search for words like a foray into our cedar closet— my-mother-in-law’s fur hats scattered on the floor, husband’s old suits like executives flattened and pressed into silence—
My mother’s organdy dress, blue rose print, spaghetti straps, wasp-waist.
My crinkled black leather jacket. Unwanted loafers.
crop ends of
Boxes hold me as I stretch past woolens and plastic garment bags,
reaching for what? Certain I’ll know when I see it.
Clothes of people dead or close to dying:
Many are saved, few kept.
What will fit?
The gut punching feeling is raw in “Girls Night Out” – a description of the isolation that sometimes come from being a woman, without children, amongst a gaggle of chattering over excited moms’ finally getting time away from demanding little hands, and taking on the town:
In this late summer garden, I consider my uterus
untraveled as a new triple-digit Interstate,
a wide boulevard Haussmann might have built,
tree-lined and unpopulated: a passage I walk every day,
sometimes fast, blindly; other times singing,
My avenue, my very own.
The sometime inaccurate or misspelled French—“Rafrachir” (“Aspiration”) “Il est dur d’être jolie” (“Teint Pur Mat”)—prevented me to fully appreciate certain poems, but the richness of the imagery throughout, kept me reading:
Comforted, twice she rode that sidewalk,
pocketed blue backdrop
and cold stone
Snug as wet shells hugging sand, we made our marks
before my moist creature-self crawled far from shore.
(“With Apologies to Anna Archer”)
Overall, Face Painting in the Dark has this sensual, meditative, dreamy feeling that leaves the reader with a lingering imprint that stays long after the last verse has been mouthed. Women are the canvases, and Ann Cefola masterfully use their stories to paint a deeply felt aquarelle of thoughtful insights, sensations and emotions.
Ann Cefola is the author of Face Painting in the Dark (Dos Madres Press, 2014); St. Agnes, Pink-Slipped (Kattywompus Press, 2011), Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007), and the translation Hence this cradle (Seismicity Editions, 2007). A Witter Bynner Poetry Translation Residency recipient, she also received the Robert Penn Warren Award judged by John Ashbery. For more information, see anncefola.com and annogram.blogspot.com.
Ann Cefola appeared in our 16th issue with her poem “Miss Deepreeze 1953“.