Wayworn Wooden Floors, by Mark Lavorato
Reviewed by Allison LaSorda
Mark Lavorato is a well-traveled poet, a fact evidenced in this collection; his words reference his experiences in various countries, sometimes obliquely, sometimes directly, but always with elegance. One might be nervous about art inspired by travel, as less talented writers tend to create obvious, culturally ambiguous, or romanticized notions of foreign places. Thankfully, there is little to be wary of with Wayworn Wooden Floors. Lavorato gives his readers the after-effects of his travels, and the emotional impact imbued by fresh landscapes, languages, and individuals. One example of this can be found in “Present”:
We both know I’ve left you before,
and without a thought really, for another
place with longer shadows I’d visited, or
some mountain range I’ve always wanted to;
running my hands over orchid-smooth skin.
While you stayed right here,
anything but yourself.
With thoughtful, bare language, Lavorato seems to design “Present” and many of his other pieces, around a notion of accessibility. A relevant consideration in the realm of poetry, his style omits unusual constructions and any sense of showiness that leaves the poet’s perceptiveness to shine. The clarity of the Lavorato’s verse echoes the immediacy of his observations, which feels particularly jarring in “Conflict Resolution.” The poem holds deceptively simple ideas, but these kinds of ideas do not feel tired; they are refreshed: “To understand that we always, / all of us, want the same thing … Empathy, he held, was nothing but a simple and short walk away.” The character the poet speaks with is both likeable and aggravating; a point the speaker leads us to in initiating a consideration of such a challenging, exhausting topic as Israel / Palestine.
Despite the occasional, understandable delve into frustration and tragedy, the bulk of the poems in Wayworn are written with tenderness, and a longing for significance within struggles that are unspecific to a fixed locale. In the poem “Vézère,” the poet indicates an awareness of ceremony and tradition, but a tangible “deficiency … of sacredness.” The key word in this turn is “defiency,” chosen carefully, no doubt, to suggest a limitation in our contemporary context. This sentiment is unsettling, reaching beyond this poetry collection and into the speakers reflections on contemporary existence, where, at the risk of moralizing, very little is sacred. This is what I enjoyed most about Lavorato’s book — though at first his themes appear to lack complexity, they just reveal it differently, in a fundamental desire for depth and understanding.
Away from his “on the trail” verses is “Fingerpaintings” — a departure for Lavorato; using children’s rhymes like “ring around the rosie” and “it’s raining, it’s pouring” he interjects these pieces into a series of five poems. To this poem’s credit, the tone of his writing is decidedly absent from the expected, child-like or prim. However, these excerpts read as out of place in keeping with the larger body of Lavorato’s book. Perhaps this is not due to tone, but to the contrivance of the singsongs when the poet’s talents are better showcased with their own creative devices or influence.
One such unique subject can be found in “Sundays,” in which Lavorato reveals his penchant for illustrative and interesting imagery:
Birds fall from branches
fluttering to the ground like leaves
And the trees seem to stop and hang in the air
as if they’re waiting for something
something we can’t even guess at
…Here’s to the sounds of feeling blessed
to the slow, muffled quiet
What is so striking about this piece is its construction as a kind of salute, even a gesture of obeisance. Also striking is the description of a welcome, but rare moment of gratitude that is free from questioning. In his final poem in Wayworn Wooden Floors, the speaker confides, “There really was a time / when I believed that the last / word of a poem / was where / it ended.” This is a significant point to end this collection on, as these poems tend to travel with you, their emotional phrases provoking consideration and interpretation long after the reader’s eyes leave the page.