- House under the Moon by Michael Sowder
In Michael Sowder’s third collection of poems, House under the Moon, a single metaphor is key to a primary theme. In the poem “November, Hiking with Aidan, Seven Months Old” he describes a hike with his son Aidan: “I lift you out of your backpack / and settle you into my lap, / as a raindrop smacks you right between the eyes. Tilak!” (8–10). Aside from the onomatopoeia of the word “tilak” sounding like a raindrop, the metaphor of the raindrop as a Hindu mark of the divine, third eye or sixth chakra, creates an intersection between the spiritual and the physical world that is repeated throughout the book. As this crossroads is encountered several times, the speaker’s relationship with the divine and the physical world deepens. But the relationship is not a traditional search for enlightenment through the natural world. It is a relationship borne out of the physical experiences of fatherhood and marriage that lead one to the divine through the doorway of a doe’s “white bones like teeth / in the mouth of the canyon” (“The Doe” 51–52). In other words, it is found through pieces, not wholeness. And it is at the conjunctions of domestic life, wilderness, and spiritual mindscape that pieces from each are combined to create a whole.
One of the most interesting motifs of these intersections is the male/female duality of the divine that is portrayed through male/female images associated with the speaker. The speaker searches for the divine at first in the form of a female god waiting to be born [End Page 127] within him or waiting for him to give birth to her. Aside from the speaker containing an inner duality of male/female, there are fascinating references to the exterior world in which the father becomes a kind of mother, as in the poem “November, Hiking with Aidan, Seven Months Old”: “Stinging hands hold a bottle / I keep warm inside my shirt, / and you drink your mother’s milk” (11–13). This one image creates a triad of father, mother, and child that corresponds to an earlier image in the poem “Hiking Entrada, Aidan Not Yet Born,” in which the three are described thus (the “you” now referring to the mother): “you’re spooned in the crook / of my body, Aidan curled in yours” (18–19).
The search for the goddess (the Kundalini) who is sometimes a mother, other times a lover, but also a trickster leads to another meeting point: the crossroads where anticipation meets actual experience. This intersection creates disappointment and betrayal but also yields to discovery and acceptance. In the poem “I Said to the Beloved, Are You Real?” the speaker finally sees himself as “just a monkey child / clinging to your back / as you cast the spell / of another spectacular world” (25–28). Here the metaphor of the poet as observer and maker leads to another pleasure of reading these poems—that of seeing archetypal images become personal symbols. Images of circles, eyes, a flame, a road, a swan become talismans by the end of the book. This book is a complex collection that takes the reader on a journey away from and a circling back toward origins. The effect can be summed up in one line: “True North everywhere” (“Hiking at Oselong, Tibetan Buddist Monastery of Andalucia” 54).