A new review of my first book by Zach Jaeger
“This book is an unfolding,” Edward DiMaio states at the beginning of his collection, Sound, Scent, & Light, unaccompanied by punctuation or any other emphasis. DiMaio, a Sturgeon Bay contractor, social worker, and poet writes poetic journal entries and contemplative prose of past traumas and vivid depictions of nature’s presence. From these two forms arise a picture of commitment to self-discovery, as well as realizations about the delicateness of life and harmony.
DiMaio’s writing began in a spiral notebook for journaling. He wrote as a means to work through the difficulties and traumas he faced growing up. Eventually, poems emerged in the pages of his notebook, such as his early Strangely I Smiled.
Bursts of music late at night, the volume
of a radio became a focus for frustrations
of tight quarters, a still relationship.
Obscenities, woven with hatred and
regret drifted up to my bedroom window.
Strangely I smiled.
Specificity of imagery and a brisk, bare tone give a glimpse of wizened wonder and gentleness toward adolescent fear and uncertainty. This perspective sets the stage for the real work of Sound, Scent, & Light. Just as memories are called up to bear, they are met with tender reflection.
From that lonely space a part of me
awakened, reached up through my fear.
A part rooted deeper than the billowing
from down the hall.
Rediscovering that age old place within
opened my eyes to the peace that can
come with the light of a new day.
DiMaio’s reflection upon harsh experiences in his life – difficult circumstances, the death of loved ones, decisions made in zugzwang – provides him with opportunities to embrace reality and grow. The tedious work of self-discovery shines through their visage of therapy in these journal entries. A decision made on uncertain footing leads to a declaration of dedication to life and its challenges in the confessional, Gone.
Right or wrong,
good or bad,
he is gone
by my choice.
How wise was this choice?
How much of it was in line
with my heart?
Through the passage of time
answers will be
whispered to me.
It is through action, not hesitation,
that I best discover my life.
Love and loss accentuate life’s turns toward maturity. The love portrayed by DiMaio is young, unsure, and at times a little desperate. His grappling with loss is afraid and blinding, as if the lights in a vast and empty ballroom suddenly burnt out, leaving him stranded. Momentum is gained through these emotional pushes and pulls in life, feeding his hunger and reminding him of what is important.
The impulse to reflect upon the difficulties in life spurs on personal growth in the deepest sense. This massaging of tension and dissolving of inertia enables us to move with the waves of life, rather than reel at every shift. Through the work of opening and healing these old wounds emerges a picture of a grounded, motivated, and compassionate man.
The dynamic image of DiMaio’s coming-of-age is set upon a vivid backdrop of stillness in songs of nature. Beauty, love and awe evolve from savoring the present moment and tasting the spectacle of nature in great detail. Often trees speak of seasons, their roots preventing them from following the birds departing for winter, their new spring foliage welcoming back those same birds who return to sing away the frost. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean pull DiMaio toward thoughts of unity and a vast formlessness.
DiMaio’s crystallizations of nature’s beauty bely a grounding power, a source of energy for his reflections. His descriptions of nature sanctify the present, as in Winds from Around the World.
Standing in the shallow waters of
Long Island’s Great South Bay, feet
shifting as retreating waves slowly pull
grains of sand out from under me.
Cool winds from around the world blow
through to my skin as they gently toss my
A stillness seeps through DiMaio’s imagery. His perspective is strengthened and rooted down by the continual motions of the natural world. How long have these grains of sand been on this beach? From what mountain across this great body of water did they erode, carried here to be stood upon by this human? And where did this wind begin? Was this air breathed by a far-away likeness of myself and exhaled in my direction? As these wonderings flow through our heads, we are drawn further into DiMaio’s perspective. We stand with our feet on the same sand as his.
Looking forward, however, a more sobering image appears. Presence within nature turns into fear of the future.
Bathing in the strength of this mighty
mass of water, a cold shiver runs through
my body telling me of a powerlessness, a
vulnerability to the pounding assault
flowing from towns and cities spiraling
Which of these will be the lead goblet
of Roman times? A goblet of choice
that quietly departed a visceral assault.
Is it for frivolous conveniences that
we press lead to the lips of our newborns?
That cold shiver revisits me. It rides
through my body on news of war, forest
fires, oil and toxic waste spills, nuclear
Human’s presence in nature has put the safety of our world at stake. Though his imagery portrays catastrophe, DiMaio assures that it will be a slow reckoning by our own hands that puts us in the most danger. With this beauty in danger, the solid ground upon which peace lies begins to shift. This jeopardization, above childhood trauma and winters of the soul, demands attention, for it is not certain that will follow.
DiMaio’s attempts to address past, present, and future coalesce in his longest work in the collection, Fading, in which we follow him in his departure from New York City. DiMaio’s admiration for the city is clear, as nostalgia flows from his detailed descriptions of stations, trains and other sounds and scents of his surroundings. Riding trains out of the city, first through Queens, then Nassau and finally Suffolk County, the sprawl thins, and trees appear in empty lots. As he passes cement plants and lumber yards, thoughts of looming development amidst old trees strike him. “Such beauty drew many to purchase bits / and pieces of this island, each enclosing / their portion with walls and a roof. // At what point do enclosures erase / the reason?”
As the countryside approaches, the stale air of the city is blown away by the sweet scent of honeysuckle. DiMaio’s ambivalence about urban life gives way to excitement.
At this point I uprooted myself, drawn
to the open space at the end of the
train car. Opening the massive door
unleashed a burst of sound scent and
light. Rail butts loudly clicked as warm
morning sun awakened the sweet scent
My journey ended at Ronkonkoma.
Stepping down from that bottom step,
old diesel still in motion, I felt renewed.
The piece continues with a second trip through the city, some time after the first. The tone this time is less vibrant. “On a more recent trip,” it begins, “the train ride was / quick and quiet.” His expectation for the countryside and its trees and its honeysuckle is met with a grim discovery that had loomed before. Countryside had acquired a new station and a gigantic parking lot filled with cars. “I grieved for this island’s fading beauty,” he laments.
This is the supreme dilemma faced by DiMaio in Sound, Scent, & Light. The greatest crisis is that we are doing away with the land, which is the very thing that feeds us, brings us peace when we despair, and provides shelter from the rest of our lives when we need it most. Bit by bit we auction off parcels of land, but what happens when all of the land has been built upon? What happens when the reason is swallowed up by our desire to have it for ourselves? How much can we fill open spaces with our presence before they lose their vastness?
How far will we extend our enclosed
world? How much of nature’s voice
can we silence before emptiness fills
In subtle ways, nature slowly evaporates
from our lives, like water from a cup.
Thirsty from the rigors of an urban
existence, I turn to drink contentment.
My heart shudders as I realize what was
life is now lost.
We must choose a different future than this. Rather than individual obligation, it is a collective one. Our consumption has run amok; we are stealing our own souls from our chests by seeking to fill a leaky cup. The leaden goblet of our times is our disregard for the sanctity of nature, of the mother from which we all came– of the choices that we have made to prioritize economic gain over conservation.
Yet hope remains. Hope lies in our ability to choose our fate. Hope lives in our capacity to see the world as it really is, not the way we wish it to be. There is still hope because there is still something that can be done, and there are people who still wish to act accordingly. There will continue to be hope for as long as these things remain fact, for as long as we choose to move toward the world we all wish to have. This is DiMaio’s hope, as he greets the return of wildlife, “Since that time, good things have happened. / Osprey, Herons and Eagles have / returned to many places. These, and other / changes, show me there is hope.”
“This book is an unfolding,” in the sense that it captures the ongoing work of an individual working to find peace and to preserve beauty in his world. Discoveries of self and creeds to live by galvanize DiMaio’s character and draw the elements of this collection together into a coherent whole.
And so, just as this book is an unfolding, it is a reflection of the nature of the human by whom it was written. He is an unfolding, just as the rest of us are. Sequences of minute choices – day-to-day endorsements of what we love, what we fear, and how we choose to embrace our lives – shape this unfolding with kaleidoscopic effect. By facing our past, we cultivate our capacity to witness the beauty of the present moment as well as our ultimate togetherness, which in turn spurs a realization of the gravity of the choices that we make, however inconsequential they may seem. May we grow with DiMaio’s parting words in mind: “Find love that lives within, recognize that love in the eyes of all things.”
Ed DiMaio lives in Sturgeon Bay, WI. He is currently working on his second publication,When It All Falls Away.