In Kelly Lorraine Andrews’ I want to eat so many kinds of cake with you (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), we fall into a down stuffed pillow of lovely song-like poems while also battling the the isolation that comes with lust and lost love. Andrews’ words are both delicate and dirty. There is a twinge of the classic as well as stark realism.
The readers can see how Andrews channels something ancient, something almost Victorian, throughout the first poem “Mire Without End.” Her words are bread crumbs here: “whalebone bodice,” “cedar chest,” “starlings,” and “lapis Lazuli.” These details are like stumbling across a travel writer’s leather bound journal and monocle from the early 1900s.
But then in “Red Moon,” there is a “friendly finger fuck” in a bathroom stall. There is August heat and hands. Still beautiful and still humming a gutsy tune, this poem is gothic and urgent. Here is the last stanza:
He was pins to your doll
black liner round your lid,
something to strap on
and take off, a tricky clasp
that won’t fall from your neck.
We swing between danger and sex—the pins to your doll, like kitschy voodoo, and the strap-on allusion, kinky. And yet the clasp around the neck is sensitive, so breakable, like our relationships, like our happy feelings. This language seems to mirror an ending courtship where the yearning and pain are still present. Like many poems in this collection, this poem possesses a push-pull chemistry like the ebb and flow of any relationship.
The narrative-driven poem “I can’t stop listening to that Big Sean song” is another example of that dynamic. Andrews depicts the euphoria and impulsive decisions made while swept up in intense feeling for another individual. She puts the pieces together like a watercolor-drenched puzzle: thinking about someone’s flaws, the future, physical appearance, and how the speaker would “still sleep with you despite everything.”
Dreams about an ex are more lucid and painful than other dreams. Andrews illustrates how these dreams may haunt:
I dreamt I hooked up
with two of your friends
at the same time
and both named Mike.
I was sturdy as a tabletop
while taking them in. After,
I was smoking cigarettes
again and I could be
that woman easily.
The humor (“both named Mike”) is balanced by the hard work of self awareness (“I could be / that woman easily”). Lost relationships both hurt us and give us perspective on what could have been and who we could be.
Andrews leaves the dream world and ushers us quickly into reality with confessions. One of the poems that capture such honest vulnerability and realism is “Verifiable Admittances.” The poem is what it says it is: admissions from the speaker. Lots of the language is ethereal but it’s the last stanza that punches us in the gut:
I am impressionable to a point
willing to hoe a garden of baby dolls
their empty sockets & dust-clung
dresses collecting in your backyard.
I’m drinking a glass of milk
as the ice melts, imagining
it’s your cum and I almost forget
that you don’t feel a thing for me.
It’s also interesting that Andrews references the baby dolls again in this poem (we see dolls and starlings crop up throughout the chapbook,) but a doll is like an extension of ourselves yet malleable, moveable, vulnerable. The speaker is willing to hoe pieces of herself in the yard, break them up, see what grows in their place.
The last poem is the titular poem “I want to eat so many kinds of cake with you,” and it is a fitting note to end on. The relationship described in the poems has seemingly ended, continues to be mourned and mulled over, and yet the speaker just wants to stuff cake in their mouth, feel some kind of pink-frosted, skin-slippery happiness.
You are a great blue heron
swallowing my body whole.
We never really love each other
at the same time or in the same way.
Andrews’ poems are a prophetic reminder that we are forever living in a world of restraint, bad timing, secrets, and not being honest with ourselves or others.
Why can’t we just eat the cake?
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and now lives in the DC area. She is the author of eight chapbooks and two full length poetry collections (forthcoming from Yellow Chair Press and Stalking Horse Press). Her chapbook Clown Machine recently came out from Grey Book Press. Her chapbook Dixit: Every Picture Tells a Story, or, The Wrong Items is forthcoming from White Knuckle Press in 2017. Recent work can be seen or is forthcoming at Jet Fuel Review, Lime Hawk, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Inter/rupture, Poor Claudia, concis, Sea Foam Magazine, and decomP. She also has poetry reviews published in The Infoxicated Corner, The Rumpus, Horseless Review, and Ploughshares blog.