By Eric Greinke
Presa Press, 2011
Reviewed by Acachia K. Schriml
Eric Greinke draws the reader into his evocative imagination, taking respite from his depictions of unforgiving reality through the beauty of nature. Reading Traveling Music is to wander the thoughts and mental vistas of a writer looking back on his long life, filled with pleasant memories and unkind knowledge alike. You may not know exactly what you will encounter with each step through this collection of poems, but instead will come to recognize the quiet voice contained within urging you never to miss an opportunity to appreciate the charm of life found in earth’s natural surroundings.
Hues of regret and loneliness are found throughout this collection, though it is often illustrated in the most fragile of ways. Even the way Greinke describes the dust settled across a lonely house in “The Way The Heat Pours Out” is picturesque:
My house in your absence still has its dust,
Uncolored, soft as a sigh, prolific,
Lying on the window ledges & the book shelves,
Covering the paintings on the wall
With a fine kindness of distortion
Of familiar facial features.
This dust is symbolic of the memories of a lost love, serving as the last remaining warmth in his heart that has been left behind. Though he fights to keep his memories intact–inside and untouched by the callous truth lurking outside–every time he opens the door, a little more of the dust escapes into the cold winter, a reflection of the emptiness he fights from overtaking his heart. The poem is wistful without being mawkish, and reading his words rouses empathy for his painful longing straight from your own heart.
Greinke also loves using natural settings to symbolize his own feelings. In the closing poem, “Cold Oceans,” he makes use of gentle assonance that mirrors a quiet, wistful memoir of the writer’s aging state:
I sit by my open window.
A lake breeze brings the outside in.
The white pine tree makes its green stand
Between me & the foggy lake.
It grows taller with each season,
But I do not.
Greinke reflects on his aging by comparing his height decreased by age with the erosion of the Rocky Mountains over a million years. The wind coming off the lake reaches him and carries away his unrecognized dreams over the “cold oceans”– dreams that perhaps will be commenced anew by another soul–a symbolic, if not bittersweet, acceptance of the cyclic nature of life.
Greinke also enjoys displaying his sardonic side as evidenced by an entire section devoted to satirical pieces, all of which seem to be commentary on the state of affairs in the United States. Our country’s unhealthy obsession with an unattainable ideal of outwardly flawlessness at any cost is illustrated in “The Bride.” Everything about the bride’s outward appearance is perfectly false, from her breasts, eyelashes, eye color, and nose, all “framed by a red wig / Made of hair from a real girl.” The only things real about this betrothed blushing beauty are her tears and the nagging truth she hides deep inside: nothing she can buy will ever make her perfect enough.
Despite Greinke’s obvious awareness of the darker side of life, many of his pieces are filled purely with striking imagery and pleasing sounds. The collection’s title piece describes a moon setting over a rainstorm in what seems like slow motion; “Deep Moorings” is a haiku that is the equivalent of a visual snapshot of a moment in time, where reality occurs simultaneously across the world, tied together only by the invisible wind that connects us all; “Great Smoky Mountains” is a walk through a world possible only in a daydream: “Not clouds, but green apples /Afloat, high above / The rocks that hang.” The author makes remarkable use of his vibrant imagination throughout this collection, and reading pieces like those mentioned above, is almost to gaze straight through a window and see directly into Greinke’s world.
Traveling Music entwines themes of nature, mortality, and questions of the future of the earth with arresting and affecting imagery that pulls the reader into a multifaceted, sometimes surreal, landscape. Greinke’s arrangement of meter is splendid and his display of forms and genres brilliant; from satirical pieces to prose poems to haiku, he weaves delicate alliteration and assonance throughout his works. Though most of his pieces are solemn and grave in nature, this collection is not without its humorous moments, which craftily break up the seriousness of the subject matter as light effectively ousts the dark. Greinke adeptly conveys the fact that life and reality can be arduous and utterly unfair at times, but that even during the most dire of situations, everyone can find solace somewhere, if only through the simplicity found in the rising sun of each new day.