Alta Ifland's Voice of Ice/Voix de Glace
Meme la mort n’est plus sans reste. /Even death is no longer final, declares Voice of Ice/Voide Glace (copyright 2007 Les Figues Press) author Alta Ifland. Death is a many-splendored experience in the hands of Ifland, who, through a series of alluring, dreamy bi-lingual (French and English) prose poems, measures out her variegated deaths on sacred and profane levels.
Ifland explores the multiple deaths of her identity through the mutable geography of memory, the dichotomy of mother/daughter relationships, and the metaphysical shattering of ego. In “The sweetness of things, in the old days,” Ifland, with careful fondness, smoothly reminisces over a Sunday from her childhood through Time’s rosy veil, yet, as an adult, at the end of the narrative, smacks the reader across the chops with an unexpected and tongue-in-cheek ending:
…In the old days, men went out in suits on Sundays, and women wore flowery dresses. I tool in the old days, wore a little flowery dress and a little white hat, and lung to my father’s hand – he was dressed in a suit. On Sundays.
Every Sunday we crossed the park on our way home, and before reaching the pastry shop at the corner, we stopped at the big house with climbing foliage, and I played with Ada’s toys – her name is all I remember.
No, I didn’t play with her toys. I touched them, as one touches things wrapped in a layer of honey. And I was already breathing their death to come, and savoring their sweetness in small gulps.
Did I mention that we were returning from the football game?
Mother/daughter relationships are historically full of contention. There exists the primal fear of displacement - the supplanting of the mother for the daughter – as an object of fertility, youth and beauty, as well as the underlying notion that “all daughters become their mothers” (IMO, this is only true when it comes to picking mates, or dealing with children), and the underlying regret of failure, both real and imagined. In “The mother,” Ifland posits a kaleidoscope of thoughts by one mother who questions her daughter’s existence, both past, present and future:
Her pocket’s overflowing with pebbles, the mother surveys her domain. She has a pitiless gaze and her crocodile tail was proof of her animal intransigence. Grease trembled in ripples on her body like little waves hiding the sea’s soul.
The mother had a son and a daughter. The son – oh, what a little marvel with his cute penis and the sweet violence barely hidden in his black velvety eyes! And the daughter? Was she the legendary orphan, child of a dark-souled stepmother, who leaves her father’s house and wanders the world in rags, disdained by all? Will she be the child who vanished without a trace or the child who comes back shadowed with glory? Will she be anything else but a child, a child’s body of light glimpsed in dreams between night and day?
Ilfand shines brightest with multiple alchemical poetic deaths of her ego. Over half the prose poems in Voice of Ice are dedicated to various, delicate and disturbing ways Ifland chooses to express her fascination with death and rebirth, some ways more voluntary than others, as in the poem, “Mourning the country,” where Ifland knowingly and eagerly severs her connections to places and things held dear, in order to achieve a new level of consciousness:
I like mourning the death of things while they are still alive. Thus, when I still had a country, I grieved over its death before leaving it. Several months remained until my departure, and I dreamed each night of long trains floating into the unknown, and stretches of murkey, menacing waters.
One night, I decided to kill it. I mean, it, the country. I imagined a huge field with golden wheat and told myself: “Look at it closely, because it’s for the last time. Never again will you see it.” I cried all night. In the morning, the country was dead, dead forever. Only musty shadows return sometimes in gray nightmares.
Then, another day, I buried another country. My second. The walls were collapsing around me and there I was, in the wind and the rain, and no sign of a roof. I hated these two countries. The first, as one hates the mother who wouldn’t let go. The second, as one despises a shadow that takes itself for flesh. Then I started to write.
What is a country? A fiction for the brainless.
The end result leaves Ifland asking Who is I?, a question repeatedly echoed throughout Voice of Ice/Voix de Glace. After ALL that is unnecessary has been stripped away, what is there left? A new beginning? A soul, in its pure and unvarnished form? A writer? Only Ifland knows, and she gives the reader plenty of leeway to contemplate her next move.
(Voice of Ice/ Voix de Glace, Alta Ifland, copyright 2007 Les Figues Press, ISBN 978-934254-035, 117 pages, $15)