Awe-inspiring, thoughtful and honest, Gillian Conoley’s selection of poems in A Little More Red Sun on the Human engages us in observation and conversation about the wild state of the world. Her work encourages analysis of the meaning of our lives as humans, our place in constructed society and forced imposition on nature. The weight of our sins and choices lay heavily upon us as a collective; these poems are lights illuminating our individual responsibilities.
Conoley likens the world to a “weird luminescence,” a planetarium, part dust, coloring our earth as a particularly strange but charming place to inhabit. Humans, in turn, are strange but charming creatures – sometimes we barely understand what we want before our feelings change, and sometimes when we get what we want, we throw it away before we have the chance to ruin it. We walk the earth holding happiness in one hand and hurt in the other. We love each other until we don’t. This selection of poems begs the question, do poems preserve us after we die? Why do new poets sing the praises and copy the craft of dead poets? In a way, we may never really die, or we may at least stay alive inside our memories of each other.
We have an everlasting impact on our world that Conoley urges us to be conscious of, in addition to our impact on each other. We must consider whether we as humans are truly more important than any other form of life. In these pages, we read about how the Big Dipper tells the Little Dipper its burial plans, while the images of dark suits and flower gardens pop up now and again to place a funeral in the back of our mind. Perhaps humans deserve extinction for polluting water and pulling weeds; we are made up of the same molecules as roses and galaxies, so we matter the same, at our most basic literal root. Perhaps politicians, with their speeches and life goals like sounds of death, are often too intent on repeating historical mistakes when even history wishes it could unwrite itself. Was there ever a time in the past when we did not love or value ourselves, and will there ever come a time in the future when we will not?
There is an over-identification with the dead and gone in these poems, an unanswerable wonder of whether we the people are worth any effort. If there is a possibility of changing ourselves at the end of our lives, there is a chance that it could still be too late. If anything, we should focus on appreciating our bewildering planet while we still have the time. We mourn the people who die before us, but not all life ends. Grass grows back and vultures circle graveyards. Conoley makes scattered ruminations about the afterlife, and we are welcomed to envision ghosts leaving music inside of us, last rites and even God wondering who loves him. As we thumb through this book, we are invited on a journey longer than life.
This work is the warmth of the sun inside us at night, the crushing duty of life support. Living in our world is like opening a door to see light at the end of a tunnel, but forging ahead blindly and finding peace in shadows. Humans are divided and categorized by many labels – gender, race, country, political and familial allegiance – and Conoley comments on these varying, twisting privileges that lead us all on different paths, together with one end. Heaven may really look a lot like earth. What we take away from our lives, at our final conclusion, is ours to determine.
Keep up with Gillian Conoley’s news and events at her website, https://www.gillianconoley.com.
(Nightboat Books, Poetry, 2019)
Bethany Mary has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.