Cherry Blossoms Outside the Madhouse: A review of Splinter of the Moon by Wayne Russell

Reviewed by Peter Mladinic

Splinter of the Moon
by Wayne Russell
Silver Bow Publishing, $20, paperback, Jan 2024, 86 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1774032848

These poems blossom on the page, they open to visions—an ice palace, a summer meadow—romantic to the core.  Wayne Russell’s romantic sensibility permeates his book. So does his individuality.  He writes from a personal standpoint.  Particulars of his life are more present in some poems than in others. Seasons are emphasized.  Past and present are emphasized, and dreams and realities. The ideal is contrasted to the real.  In Russell’s vision, the world is imperfect, nature is redemptive, and love is abiding.

We live in a fallen world.  The poet gives his particular take on it.  It is not void of beauty. “Stars” is an extended metaphor.
     I cast out my net into the multitudes of stars;
     they were violent and put up a tremendous struggle.
     Persevering, I pulled with all my might,
     simply because they were beautiful
     from where I stood upon this troubled earth.

“Transgressions” acknowledges law breakers and people afflicted with different addictions. “Microcosm” shows sympathy.  “This town sheds tears, just like any other.” In “Terminus Point October 2007, the speaker says of one of the fallen, “You had so much to live for/ but still you were so determined to go.  “56” is a very personal poem about the poet’s mother, who “quietly surrendered to the devil/ and cheap ten-dollar plastic bottles of vodka worship.” There’s anger, grief and honesty in this poem that is ultimately elegant in its language. From something ugly the poet made something beautiful. This is a fallen world, and for the fallen the poet has compassion.  Nowhere is that compassion more evident than in “Vagabond.” Showing kindness the speaker gives the vagabond money. Then reality intrudes as the vagabond takes that money into a liquor store to buy alcohol.  Russell never finches from reality.

In contrast to society, nature is innocent. That’s not a new idea, but readers get Russell’s particular take on nature.  In “Scotland 1991” he says “I feel oddly at home,/ gulls crying out,/ albatross perched listless/ upon a dilapidated pier pole.” The poem “Untitled” ends with an image of replenishment, “a dewdrop/ upon a blade of grass/ on a Sunday morning.”  In nature the poet finds life: plants, animals, solitude, himself.  Deer graze, “Dogwoods sway,”

and from “Questions For Those Gone Before Us” there is this passage about the changing seasons:

     The ravens outside our windows
     know, after Autumn,
     Winter shall rear his straggly snow white
     and infuse doldrum greys into the days.
     The cherry blossom trees
     have done their bit, for all to see.
     Now they, too, lay dormant as the dead.

Seasons change, natural disasters happen, human tragedies happen daily. Ultimately we turn to one another. In Russell’s poems love abides, the love of husband and wife, family, and of doing good for humankind. The contentment of love is conveyed at the end of “Here.”  “And yet, here we are so very comfortable/ underneath the universe, the roof,/ and the lights that illuminate this room/ where we dwell.”  There are quietly passionate love poems: “The Flame Always Burns,” “Phenomenon,”  and the joyful “That Defining Moment.”  Two passionate love poems appear in the middle of the book, and they are very different, the title poem “Splinter of the Moon” and the poem that follows it, “That Poem for Her.”  The former is love with strife and discord, about a family. In it, the speaker says, “Silver hair, and I remember/ your green eyes and golden/ stare; way back then.  The poem is worth quoting in its entirety, but hopefully the quoted lines express intensity that runs throughout.  This is not a happy poem.  It’s a very good poem that had to be written.  Its turmoil is countered by the peaceful bliss of “That Poem for Her.”  If “Splinter” is the storm, “for Her” is the harbor.  It’s good to have them side by side.

Throughout, and within the poet, there is the ideal and the real.  Often the real falls short, but sometimes as in “Room,” “That Defining Moment,” and “That Poem for Her” the real is on an equal plane with the ideal. While there are dream images in poems, there is also reality, the reality of the poet being honest with himself and his readers. He has things to say about corruption, about reckless abandon and natural beauty and compassion and tenderness, and he says them in his voice. He is well worth listening to, and reading.  Splinter of the Moon is a book like no other, as it should be.

About the reviewer: Peter Mladinic’s latest poetry books are Voices from the Past, published October 2023 and The Homesick Mortician, in January 2024. Another, titled Housesitting, is forthcoming from the Anxiety Press. An animal rights advocate, he lives in Hobbs, New Mexico, USA.