Review: “Face Painting in the Dark”


Face Painting in the Dark, by Ann Cefola
Dos Madres Press, 2014, $16

The poems in Ann Cefola’s Face Painting in the Dark, published in late 2014 by the Ohio-based Dos Madres Press, are experiential and immediate — sensory, sensual works that radiate like a pastel crayon pressed into an artist’s drawing pad. Indeed, much of this collection centers on the act of art-making and its resonance: Cezanne’s apples and nudes, the solitary reverie of painting at an old family cabin, the ways in which our visual self-presentation gilds and conceals us. In the title poem, Cefola finds the celestial in an early-morning ritual:

I’ll search the black ocean sky
without knowing why. In pre-dawn dark
I’ll draw lipstick, liner, blush, glad

for the mirror’s halo effect. I won’t remember
tumbling like a meteor, or a voice …

Again, in “Blue Moon,” the ethereal exterior and the human interior intermingle, as the speaker, pulled into consciousness by moonlight (the beautifully termed “homeless solar ray”), is incited to

my translucent calluses
and nails painted soft nude-pink.
I leave the soft porcelain girl,
evenly breathing, behind.

The images Cefola creates are not static, seeking observation; like that penetrative moonlight, they enter our rooms suddenly and rearrange us, buoyed by phrasing that is rich and assertive, as in the memory-infused “Shelter Island”:

Yard’s dry-rust grass,
trees and hills teal green. Water sapphire, beach with detritus of dirt

and seaweed a gray tide line. Spiky purple plant at the planks’ feet,
licked by salt air, reaching for sun, strokes rising like fireworks.

Here, and throughout the collection, Cefola reveals herself to be a poet both of meditative fixity and graceful movement. Her work synthesizes moments in which the minutiae of our lives — riding on the subway to Grand Central Station, tracing the path of an ant along a bedside table, having pancakes with a spouse, tending to pet dogs — coalesces with a sensation of something larger. Face Painting in the Dark advocates, through its shining language, a slippage into awareness that is quiet and necessary. “There must be a great bear who gathers the wounded into whole,” she writes in “Open Season,” channeling Ursa Major. “Find your sure path, as I have, / in the dark and limitless space between stars.”