AUTHOR: Dah Helmer
PUBLISHER: Transcendent Zero Press
REVIEWED BY: Michael Grotsky
I first met Dah in 1998 when he was expressing himself in photographic images that were poetic, mysterious, erotic, and dreamy. These images are of concrete things, like Venetian masks, women and seascapes, that reveal abstract ideas moving between dreaming and waking while suggesting something beneath and beyond the subjects in his camera lens.
Along the line Dah’s photographs morphed into poems that speak of nature, desire, loss, and, of course, dreams. They speak of confusion and difficulty in distinguishing between sleeping and waking, love and lust, and, as the muse in Something Else’s Thoughts says, “Death, the forgotten comfort”
In short, Dah skates along the invisible line that moves between these states and leaves us wondering what exactly is this line, where does it come from, and who controls it? If it’s shifting then how do we distinguish between reality and dreams? Is there a difference? Is this madness or simply the existential dilemma that constitutes and defines our lives?
In the poem “Imperfection” Dah laments: “along the way I’ve misplaced my guardian angel and between life and death the gray line expands.” He admits in “Words Of Dreams”, “the frankness about my spiritual poverty: I own nothing of myself not the acceptance or the resistance.” And from “We Turn Into Earth” he asserts: “the world will pass and the gray line continues, like an eternal suture inside the soul.” Then in “Broken #2” he questions: “Can I exist like this, can anyone live this way knowing that within our minds a sub-mind of deep surveillance creates eyes inside one’s privacy?”
Ambitious in its scope, Something Else’s Thoughts, Dah’s seventh book of the decade, is a rumination on desire, loss, absence, and death, as he weaves one poem into the next, creating a tale that walks the high wire of love and disorder between the narrator and his muse, who contributes to the experience. They inhabit a nebulous world that slips between, behind, under, and into “the gray line” –– a metaphor that runs throughout this work as a mystifying and elusive divide between all things.
But the gray line is not merely a marker between events; at times it takes on an active, aggressive role, threatening the protagonist and his muse. In a state of menace the gray line is an aggressor seizing its victims, wrapping itself around a leg, “looking for completion”, or pulling to the bottom of the sea a pelican’s carcass, or harassing Mr. Serling of the Twilight Zone, and even downing a jet which disappears without a trace.
In “REM”, Dah defines the gray line’s intent: “to suck negative ions from the water, to suck them from our bodies, to keep us melancholic, confused, and submissive.” It is “the ambiguous region between two conditions, containing trace features of both.” It is a “place beyond time” where we find “the vanishing of differences.” It is the anti-hero of the story.
Within this bizarre dreamscape there is also dark humor. In “Pass Through The Center” the poet plays with the gray line: “I take the gray line and hang it from ceiling to floor, taut as a bow string, and use a broom handle to stroke it, like a cellist, until sound waves roll from side to side.”
But the line that separates us from psychosis is also thin and fragile. In the poem “Imperfection” Dah writes: “If memories and dreams are voiceless then what is it I’m hearing? And then he states, “at times I feel nobody’s home, that my body is soulless and everything’s a dead dream.”
Then, with his muse, the narrator seeks rejuvenation along the coast, where the gray line divides solid and liquid: “I must return to the coast, to the sea’s purity, to the infinite way.” It is there at the coast that narrator and muse seek refuge in one another, in passion, in the fact of flesh. The muse attempts to ground the narrator, who slips between coherency and ambiguity. In the title poem, “Something Else’s Thoughts”, Dah writes: “We are two parts of gray’s polarities: the simple and complex, the sound soundless, black white. Should I speak or should I listen?”
In “A Place Beyond Time’ he asks: “How does one make sense of what is ambiguous?” And from “Been Dreaming Too Long” he inquires: “will only gray remain after the universe dies?”
On which side of the line do we stand? This is a question only we can decide for ourselves, and when we are consumed by Something Else’s Thoughts, decisions are never final.