Journal of Writing & Environment

Poetry in the Waiting Room: A Review of Marici’s Swish Swirl & Sniff

Salvator Marici’s Swish Swirl & Sniff (poetry collection)
Ice Cube Press, June 2014

Review by Erin Schmiel

The poems in Swish Swirl & Sniff by Salvatore Marici are bound by the sensual. Marici’s poems stimulate the reader with not only “globes” of Sicilian oranges and their “continental” slices, “tomato chunks shuffling” in his grandmother’s sauce, but also the way in which his choice of titles, themes, and connective tissue of words create the body of this collection.

For example, in “Supermoon, 19 March 2011,” Marici describes the moonrise in Naples Florida, “she rises/ as if she takes an elevator/without walls.” The next poem, entitled “Luna,” begins, “Moon bounces sunlight/through windows…white abuts/ the four horizons. Cold fills/ space between lunarscape/ and prairie.” By using the connecting image of the moon, Marici brings the reader from Florida to the Midwest prairie.

The next poem, “Home Turf in the Midwest,” continues with the prairie setting, by describing a woman whose arms “mimic/ the hummingbirds’ wings flap/of figure eights” as she is spreading wildflower seeds: “sideoasts gramas grasses/and aromatic asters.” At the end of the poem she “shawls/her shoulders/to hear crickets chatter.” The next poem, “Waking Dream of the Smoky Mountains” feels as if it begins the very next morning in the same narrative but with a different character who enjoys similar views of “asters and gamma grass.” Images such as these thematically link these poems together, creating a complex and visceral experience for the reader. Half the fun of reading this collection was discovering these connections, which invite the audience to read and re-read Swish Swirl & Sniff with an obsession reminiscent of some people’s devotion to Joyce’s Ulysses.

When I finished Swish Swirl & Sniff I sighed with satisfaction, wondered if the whole collection was a sestina, and then suppressed an almost over-powering desire to read the whole thing again. Instead, I flipped through the pages, skimming the poems and rereading my notes (of which there are many). Yellow Post-It tabs mark the patterns I found, even if the character in the poem”Selected Ignorance” found no such insights. This poem contains the collection’s title phrase, and, for me, functions as the climax of the collection.

In the first stanza of “Selected Ignorance” a migrant worker picks grapes. The poem is centered on his physicality, the sensory experience of working in a field: “Lower back muscles stiffen into bent positions/while calloused fingers pick Pinot Noir./Promises to send money home…” The next stanza transports the reader to an unnamed man opening a “$40 bottle” of wine: “Red fluid gurgles through an aerator/then a stream falls into a crystal-stemmed glass….swish-swirl, he sniffs/ a trace of vanilla…/He closes his eyes, sips, swallows.” The sensory imagery of this stanza focuses on the experience of taste, not just of the vanilla, but of “fine crystal,” as well as the ability to “untwine” a day with “four glasses…and never wonder(s)/whose hands picked the grapes.”

Marici is weaving a story of class disconnection here, and this isn’t the only poem that had me writing “whoa” in the margins or furiously underlining sparkling lines bright with his unique diction. He is never preachy; he simply observes very carefully the everyday lives of his characters and narrators, and breaks your heart with the reality of our life here on Earth.

In “Avoidance,” the poem that follows “Selected Ignorance,” the narrator observes, “cabernet pours into a crystal glass,/Alcohol circulates, saturates my brain.” While eating his dinner, the narrator watches television images of war zones, “I dig a spoon in pork soup and think/I should grate Romano cheese/ into the warm mixture.” Here again, differences in how we live our lives highlights the disconnection between people. This poem, in the possessive voice, shocked me by taking the visceral images of “Selected Ignorance” and holding up a mirror to my life and my relationship with the media. Marici does not let up on the reader until, “Suspended Animation” where he finally breaks the tension of pain, indifference and class difference with the line, “Around midday, locust branches/ and utility lines catch rain.” I caught my breath here, and happily read about the weather and “weight bearing structures.”

In addition to the social themes, Swish Swirl & Sniff  includes poems about meals that lead to poems about gardening, composting raw ingredients, and cooking, which all ultimately connect to the narrator’s theme of nature.  Reflecting on the natural world leads to reflection on how our bodies are out of our control for as long as we live, especially as we grow older. In poems like, “Biopsy,” “Because of Fear I Submit,” and “Eczema and Secondary Infections” the narrator likens a doctor’s visit to working in his garden.  When he writes, “Like I did today at 3 PM/for the urologist/I bend over/ in my garlic patch/and yank tall fescue,” I laughed out loud, deep from my heart and belly because I know the pull of those biopsy “guns”. And then, with, “I control nature/except what the lab will find/ in prostate bits/ Doctor Lubbers will extract tomorrow,” I became silent.

Marici asks, do we ever control anything? Our gardens?  Those tissue samples?  Swish Swirl & Sniff answers: we work in our gardens while we can because we live and breath today, and we see the doctor because we have to, and we read poetry in the waiting room.