Book Review: Mosaic of the Dark
by Risa Denenberg
Black Lawrence Press, 2018

Early in Lisa Dordal’s Mosaic of the Dark, the poem “For the Cashier at T.R. Wolfe’s Toy and Candy” offers this bleak portrayal of an unfulfilled woman:

Whatever it was she wanted,
getting us instead. (5)

The woman in the poem may be any woman whose dreams are thwarted; or perhaps she is the speaker’s mother. The speaker—a lesbian poet— exploits wisdom Dordal may have attained from obtaining both Masters of Divinity and Masters of Fine Arts degrees. It might take an MDiv to sift through the weight of gender expectations for a young Catholic-raised girl and her repressed alcoholic mother, and later, an MFA to write the emerging woman out of her tenured incumbrances into wholeness.

Pressed hard by family, religious, and cultural messages, the speaker does attempt to perform heterosexual normality. In “Wedding,” she even marries a man:

I walked, as my mother had taught me,
down the aisle, my body
pressed into taut, pallid lace, her own. (25)

The narrative arc in Mosaic of the Dark follows ‘girl transformed into woman.’ But, Dordal’s imaginative reach takes the reader into and out of the story, surprising us and expanding our insight with every poem, as here, in “Another Attempt at Prayer,”

I imagine their bodies
transformed into fish.

Into swallows. Fox lung
or beetles’ blood. (68)

There is a movement throughout these poems that leaves events unsettled, in flux, bleeding one thing into another. Poems dedicated to C. and J. (inmates in a maximum security prison) pair a personal arc with a broader socio-political arc. Here, lines from “This is Praying” describe an encounter with C., while capturing the experience of being imprisoned within female gender roles:

this language my body speaks
as I crouch, palms, knees
pressed against the prison floor.
//
How my mind had been
like a living thing nailed down,
trembling with what ifs (53)

Mosaic of the Dark is drenched in metaphor, mystery, and prayer. Dordal, in her acquired wisdom, has produced a book of poetry that transcends a woman’s story to become a spiritual awakening.


RISA DENENBERG is co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press, publisher of lesbian/bi/trans poetry. She publishes poetry book reviews at The Rumpus and other venues and curates The Poetry Café, an online meeting place where poetry chapbooks are reviewed. She has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).