by Nancy Posey
Malaika King Albrecht
Main Street Rag, 2011
The poems in Malaika King Albrecht’s new collection Spill pay homage—or at least attention—to all the elements—the earth in the soil where wildflowers grow in “Ode to Weeds,” the wind giving breath or lifting “feather-light ashes” or a flock of starlings before they are thrown to the ground, fire of hot coals or fireflies in “Lucifer Is Another Name for Venus,” but throughout this collection, the balance shifts toward water, as the title implies.
In two sections entitled “Tributaries and Rapids” and “Waterfall and Ocean,” her poems are literally awash in images as tangible as the Mississippi overflowing her banks in New Orleans, leading the speaker in “Kneel” to walk down Bourbon Street, “[wading] farther down the slant of cement into deeper water [as] A riverboat’s wake washes [her] skinned knees.” In her opening poem, “We Can’t Step into the Same River Twice (New Orleans, 2005)” Albrecht flashes TV images of the city’s “filthy, slow moving water / [as] a man and a pregnant woman paddle an air mattress / with brooms to anyplace else.”
Together, though, the poems take the watery images to a metaphorical level, giving glimpses sometimes harsh, sometimes, tender, sometimes wry, into the all-consuming cycle of falling into, facing, and overcoming addiction. The speaker takes the reader along on the journey in which swimming becomes the controlling metaphor, first in the “Swimming Lesson,” as a child witnesses her mother drowning mice–“five hairless babies, explaining to her daughter, “It’s hot outside. / Mice enjoy a swim. In “To the Swimmer,” a sensuous, dangerous poem, during a late night drunker swim, the speaker wonders, “Who needs to be out of the water to breathe? At last in “Survival 101”, “tossed upside down in the surf / unable to discern which way is up” finding an escape, “the natural swimmer . . . follows the bubbles to the surface.”
Through the poems, Albrecht pieces together fragments of a story of pain and addiction, of a mother’s failure to love, of risk and loss and survival through a voice darkly comic at times—a go-go dancer, a stand-up comic whose clever, ironic word play serves as a hedge against her present reality, quipping, “Animals may be our friends but they won’t take us to the airport” or lamenting in “Dear Holy Fool, “i’m dying up here (insert nervous laugh track.)”
Albrecht’s readers are voyeurs escorted into the world of addiction, HIV, nooses, and needles, told from bar stools and park benches, but eventually from an “orange chair smelling of singed hair” in rehab at Serenity Lodge, surrounded by “angels with tongues / like flaming swords.” The poems in spill over in torrents, at times threatening, uplifting, cleansing, but never Albrecht never leaves the reader untouched.