Meditations at Midnight

Gary Jansen

Publisher: Loyola Press Pages: 96 Price: (paperback) $9.99 ISBN: 9870829458886 Reviewed: May, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Meditations at Midnight is a small but impactful book of poetry and prose from an award-winning author of nonfiction, contemplating the ways in which the spiritual intersects with the mundane.

Gary Jansen’s chapbook-sized collection is divided into five parts whose titles are freighted with meaning, and which peer through thick layers of emotion with a subtle lens. In “Via Dolorosa,” a cycle of short poems describing the Passion of Christ, Jesus imagines, as he’s nailed to the cross, a dove whispering in his ear “The promise of honey, olives, milk./ The promise of love.” Jansen brings out the story’s heavy symbolism with the lightest of touches, building swift ripples of human loss and misery to a final triumph: “in this restless darkness you sleep.// But not for long.”

“Via Vitae” skillfully relates small, poetic parables of an old man seeking spiritual truths, with varied success. Here Jansen mingles the lovely and the absurd with the image of a woman glowing “as if she radiated phosphorus” who slaps the old man, and a contemplation of God that alludes to Charles Schultz’s Charlie Brown.

The poems of “Via Cordis” are more purely lyric, spinning captivating tales of attraction, enchantment, nostalgia, and loss with lines like “[…] all I wanted to do was wrap you/ and me in a cocoon of Syrian silk/ and play strip poker until/ we grew one set of wings.”

Meanwhile, “Via Memoria” recalls powerful memories written in prose: an eerie moment in a church in Prague, Jansen’s inspiration to become a writer, meeting a man in Paris who recounts a long fable of an itinerant paintbrush. “St. Cecilia and the Ballad of the Lonesome Traveler” captures the best expression of Jansen’s faith and the way, for him, the numinous peeks through the ordinary in quiet spaces.

Readers will appreciate the sly, subtle images that emerge quietly and hook deep in these pages. Balanced with a steadfast, compassionate philosophy and the sheer poise of the lines, these are tiny meditations that leave a deep impression.

Highly recommended for fans of Jane Hirschfield and Robert Wrigley.

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