At Louche Ends
Maria Alexander

Burning Effigy Press
Chapbook, 56 pages, $8.00
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

At Louche Ends: Poetry for the Decadent, the Damned and the Absinthe-Minded is divinely dissolute. The poems of Maria Alexander are liberated and libertine; sybaritic, sensual, and sinister. Redolent and intoxicating, they woo with wantonness and abandon. Reading Alexander’s words can lead to fantasies of reclining on a velvet-covered divan in a parlor during the Fin de Siècle. The ability to conjure such visions is a rare gift, but the poet is also extremely adept at conveying the pain that often accompanies pleasure.

In “Tatouage,” for example, skin engraving leads to deeper and darker cravings:

Ink threads its way
between the layers of skin
the way words for you
weave between
my sinew, blood, and bone.
Ink that never dries
but saturates me with unfading desire.
Women do not give art freely
to men without
love staining their fingers.
Ritual scars,
bloodied needles,
bliss that cuts until
I am numb from your blade.
I will never again
feel your sting.
And, yet, without your sting,
I find I am still in pain.

Surreal and sexually steamy, these lines from “Lord Arux” reflect a dangerous attraction that is morosely seductive:

When you kissed my hand,
an exodus of insects
fled up my arm,
up my neck,
into my mouth,
between my moist lips.
The vast swarms of you
poisoned every pore
with unattainable desire.

Evoking the tone of Charles Baudelaire, the French poet noted for his volume Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil), Maria Alexander employs the master’s native language in “The Little One” or “Petite.” The poem is written in English, with the French version/translation appearing opposite it. This stanza will have particular appeal to lovers of horror:

When I was little
I played
Between the mausoleums
Where the flowers
Mouldered
Bitter and bent
Blackening
The angels.

At Louche Ends is a narcotic for the senses. As though imbibing absinthe, the collection brings to mind the writers and artists who drank the controversial beverage: Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, and Oscar Wilde among them. The “louche” in the volume’s title refers in part to an effect that occurs when water is added to absinthe, forming a milky microemulsion. Louche also means slightly immoral or disreputable, which applies to the tenor of the poems. The poetry takes the reader on a wonderful wayward walk on the wild side – with the benefit of never having to leave the sanctuary of the sofa.

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