Abiding Chemistry by Susan Castillo Street

– Reviewed by JPL –

It is clear from Susan Castillo Street’s Abiding Chemistry that Jonathan Edmund Street was, and is, loved. Cherished keepsakes come in a variety of forms, recording other bonds as well:

My mother’s closet was
A cave of wonders

Smell of Chanel / midnight satin shimmers / Grandmother’s kitchen / Linoleum with marble swirls / warm dark bed of Mississippi Delta clay.

The Greeks had more than one word for love, and here there is certainly storge (parental love) and agape (brotherly or spiritual love), and pain as well as passion (‘Ruthie’ has an elemental straightforward power), recording those times when outwardly we are obedient youngsters, but inside (and given half a chance!) whole Huck Finn adventurers (‘Calcasieu’). Castillo records those shared moments that deepen love, as in ‘Cord’:

In thready whisper, I promise that
I’ll always guard you from the dark
Because we’re linked by sinew, heart to heart.

If only we could, like passing bells; its all so transient. Accessible in form, sensitive to the music of vowel and consonant, higher and lower tones accenting the lines, the poems of Susan Castillo Street are direct, evoking nuances and shades of loving that the reader can feel, for this is the ‘Abiding Chemistry’ in the end:

This world endures, though it is poised
in fragile balance, in this elemental dance.

But on a brighter note…….
Kinetic bonding tends to hold
our molecules together,
keep us from shimmering
out toward loss

Perhaps love is its other name,
this abiding chemistry
that binds the fragments close

We return to love, the poems marking indelible memories and laughter, points at which the reader can smile; seminal moments at which the phrase ‘heart to heart’ is deeply felt and communicated, but not in a sentimental or prurient way. Sincere emotion, at once elegantly expressed and contained within the parameters of each poem.

This journey, of what I call the relational, is a ‘fragile balance’, and the poignancy of loss is both deeply touching and eloquent (‘Sorry’), as the world itself spins on so many other journeys that impact with their own history (‘Moments’). And afterwards?

The memories are paler now.
It feels as though I’m on a ship,
waving to you on the dock

as you grow smaller, fading
into the sea haze
and the wake widens              


The ship moves on (‘Daffodils’), but inside love remains, and is cherished:

You always used to steal the duvet.
One day, when we lie together
    deep in Sussex soil, you’ll be up
to your old tricks………

But this I know:
Our bones will lie warm together
when we’re wrapped in that dark quilt.

It is always rewarding to read poetry that engages, that holds the reader and resonates in experiences shared. It is rarer to be in the presence of a sensibility that wraps up, in a subject albeit well-trodden, the tone, feeling and skill that Susan Castillo Street has so successfully accomplished. Love has laughter and sunshine, enriches and is lost but we are the better for it. Jonathan Street surely must have been, and so are we, in reading this.

For one brief moment
far from our jagged world
we stand transfixed, redeemed
by visions of strong gilded wings.