Marcela Sulak’s latest poetry collection, City of Skypapers, builds the walls of a beloved city and then explores inside and outside of them, navigating the personal and public spaces of wartime. She paints pictures of a sea of palms, shadows of dust, the scents and bustle of a flourishing garden, and then she rattles this landscape with sirens and ever-traveling soldiers. We begin our adventure with the mantra, “I will not falter before the blessings of today,” and this leads us assuredly through to the end.
We flip through snapshots of daily life in Israel, and likely find it very similar to our own lives in some ways. A seemingly mundane trip to an electronics store is infused with humorous exasperation, trying to be nice to the salesperson on their birthday but really just needing to complete one simple task without being roped into anything more. Sulak also pens a long ode to garbage collectors for their necessity, dedication and clarity, and includes several offhand musings about neighbors. If their laundry hangs out too long, have they died? Which comes first, marital love or successful division of chores? If the woman on the bus is crying, does she need advice?
She also asks, and encourages us to ask ourselves, more thoughtful questions. Is it better to be smart, right, or good? And should you bother to be nice when it is not helpful? Sulak repeatedly returns to reading stories to her daughter, and struggling to find tactful and true answers for a child’s innocent questions. No one is born good or bad. We must decide who we are as we get older, but at what point? What event is impactful enough to tip the scale, or is there an eternal gray area? Sulak writes that “there is good / in the world in which I want to live,” but we must assume there is some balance with the bad.
The poems in this collection weave through both good and bad, quiet and earth-shattering moments. We are confronted with the reality of never being able to relax waiting for the daily missile, despite not being rich enough to live in a building that someone would bother to blow up. What is the significance of a quaint home with a well-used bicycle and laundry line? It is a symbol perhaps both of poverty and of gratitude, the basic but often overlooked appreciation of being alive in a time of war, however “wildly implausible” it may be.
Sulak writes freely, even within the occasional structural constraints of haikus, sonnets, or form rooted in prayer. Her poems of global and internal conflict demonstrate “how to use another’s misery / without exploitation, but in a helpful way,” always highlighting humanity, whether it is the compassionate side or the colder side. We must be mindful of the balance of our own personal natures, and the way this translates into the world on a wider level.
A prize-winning poet and worldwide traveler, Sulak busies herself not only with creative writing but also extensive translation work and a podcast. One of her poems mentions a podcast about how seeing enemies as fellow humans is preparation for peace, very much in line with the humanitarianism and public focus of her work. Keep up with all of her achievements and events on her website http://www.marcelasulak.com.
(Black Lawrence Press, May 2021)
Bethany Crawford 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.