Ephemeris by Dorothy Lehane

-Reviewed by Steve Nash


Part daybook, part astronomical chart (and definitely winning the award for the most appropriate title for our ‘reviews of the ephemeral’), Dorothy Lehane’s debut collection Ephemeris is a dazzling expedition through the stars.

Lehane clearly delights in the shapes of words and poems upon the page, and the varied placement of the text here is thoughtfully married to the cosmic theme.  At a glance the collection becomes an inverted galaxy in its own right – the black letters somehow shining bright against the empty space, each mark a dark star illuminating the reader’s passage.  You even get the feeling that the words mischievously morph on the page when your eyes are fixed elsewhere, dancing in new patterns, only to freeze when they sense you gazing back at them.

Of course, with such shifting pathways, the journey is not necessarily a straightforward one.  A sparse homage to Bucky Fuller gives a sense of the disorientation any willing explorer may discover:

…consumption with depression
meaning inertia

‘Supernova’ undresses itself for us with its “worrying little striptease” and though the eroticism may be delivered with a tongue firmly placed in the cheek, the rich sensuality of Lehane’s language can’t fail to seduce.

This is starkly contrasted by ‘Keyhole (NGC1999)’, with its mimetic jackhammer of unpleasant masculine power and control:

to erupt is a domination
an alpha male corralling cloud
vandals graffiti like a mirror
scattering culprits
metropolis in their jets

You’ll find great variety here, from mathematical equations to Robert Southey epigraphs, but there is also a hint of the intensely personal.  The personal here is not sentimental though, instead it is rendered through specific detail that registers like a lightning bolt through the memory.  In ‘Reader’ we find such detail concentrated through the clarity of an assured gaze and acute navigational skill:

maybe you’d prefer post mortems;
the year we left Mum’s gingham rug out
all night in the long grass,

What follows is nothing short of devastating, but it is made all the more forceful by the simplicity of the image and recollection that precedes it – the experience becomes a shared one and we somehow stride through the memory with the speaker.

Lehane tells us elsewhere that “our real drama is years past” but there is a genuine thrill in excavating these memories.  They may be memories that we have no right to claim as our own, but once we have lived through them with the poet, they inexplicably become a part of our history.

Even the final poem ‘Sonnet’ delivers a satisfying end to the labyrinthine journey, pre-empting the reader’s own feelings as the speaker laments: “I’m not ready for this coda”.  We may not be ready for the voyage to come to an end, but it is a captivating ride:

I’m not ready for this coda
if the universe held us together
to whom do we send up our sighs?