Thesaurus of Separation
by Tim Mayo
Phoenicia Publishing

"it was definitely there
that I learned how easy it was,
among strangers, to let one’s grief
get in the way of another’s."

This poignant volume is an award-winning collection of poems by Mayo, a man who has personally experienced the pain of separation throughout his lifetime. As a child, he lost parents, family, youth, and American innocence; later as an adult he endured the death of his partner. Perhaps the graphic image used to separate sections throughout the book represents a lock of a hair kept to remember.

From the title, it is clear that the author is familiar with separation anxiety disorder (SAD). This dysfunction typically starts before the age of four, often after the relocation of the family. For a child who processes information visually, the loss of familiar reference points could explain dependence on a single individual. Being away from that person, even temporarily, produces recognizable symptoms. Perhaps this is why Mayo’s poems describe some of the saddest places in civilized society. He shows us his foster home with a back door reserved not only for strangers but also for him, boarding school, death beds, suicide in a parking lot, and a 5th-floor walkup in a windowless New York apartment. These are locations he knew intimately—places where relationships were torn and creased like an old photo, where there was no hope and no smile.

Some poems contain sexual subjects, although not overtly expressed. Watching the mailman lug his heavy bag reminds the poet of the hunchback’s lumpy animal yearnings—each man frustrated by the ordinariness of life. In “Meat,” the dive of a falcon reminds him of lust created by a look at the opposite sex. Is this typical of his writing or produced during a period associated with the loss of his lover?

The intensity of Mayo’s poems befits the subject matter. The meter chosen produces stanzas typically seven to ten beats, occasionally more. Beginning each line with lower case allows the content to flow to the poem’s end. Rhyme would have undoubtedly hindered spontaneity of thought. Besides, no poet in this day and age would stop to rhyme with his or her world crashing down around them. While rhyme is avoided, a frequently used literary device in his poetry is the simile. Examples are everywhere, including “the bear backs away like a wrestler” or “the New England sun shining down like a Puritan, as we gather coven-like.”

This book of poems breathes the nostalgia of leafing through an old photo album—black and white or sepia. The only colors mentioned throughout are those linked to nouns, like yellowed papers, red and green lights, or are implied by mentioning a banana (typically yellow). Does the poet illustrate the view through sad eyes or those of a colorblind person? Fortunately, Mayo has a gift of choosing highly-evocative words and phrases. Examples include “how the balloon of my being blew up to a point no body could hold” or “this tarnished trophy of a swimmer poised to leap…over the lip of a hollow urn.” He could almost launch his own line of occasional greeting cards, which would be quite different from the typical mushiness of Hallmark.

The reader may be drawn into the sadness of certain poems, but taken as a whole this finalist for two Eric Hoffer Book awards is an engaging read. The prior inclusion of many poems in other journals indicates the quality and polish that Mayo has applied. It is obvious in this collection that an outstanding craftsperson has been at work.

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