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What to Tell the Sleeping Babies by M.R.B. Chelko

What to Tell the Sleeping Babies by M.R.B. Chelko

Reviews, Vol. 4.1, March 2010
Cover art by Justin Towart

Sunnyoutside, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-934513-22-4
Saddle stitched, 24 pp., $12
Review by Cynthia Reeser

2009 Lumina Poetry Contest winner M.R.B. Chelko’s chapbook, What to Tell the Sleeping Babies, is a playful, enjoyable read. The poet’s enthusiasm for language buds in every line, and her wordplay and imagery is not self-serving but rather, constitutes fun with a purpose. The resonance of Chelko’s lines makes the work as a whole memorable.

Poems like “The White Room” are wonderfully eerie, with the images of “faces / stacked like pancakes / on the floor” persistent as the madness the poet describes. But most of the work is much lighter. In “At the wedding, a song,” the endurance (and hidden importance) of small pleasures lends itself to lines that themselves “[open] like a dandelion seed, / its small hopeful sail / unfolded.” The title piece follows suit:

There’s too much light in the world.
One day you will cry over
a peeled orange. Hold its bright
ripped skin in your hands.

Chelko’s sense of humor lends well to the work on the whole. In “I’ve decided to name the universe little Josie,” the sensibility of the creative mind is captured in a poem that sustains its lightheartedness from the first to the last line. But there are traces of dark humor as well: “The dog of my childhood is put to sleep; / my parents do not bring her body home— / we bury sticks” and in the poem, “When he asked I answered”:

I imagine
mine will be a ridiculous little death:

[…]

I’d like to think I’ll
make a little noose in my mouth

with a cherry stem.

Chelko has a gift for using language and metaphor in truly unique and memorable ways. I look forward to reading her future collections.

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