Melissa Studdard
I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast

Saint Julian Press
Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0-9889447-6-3

Reviewer: Cindy Hochman

          With a heady and holy mix of elegant sensuality and spacious spirituality, the poems in award-winning writer Melissa Studdard’s book I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast read like a generous gift to the world. Whether or not you have ever experienced an epiphany, Studdard proves that it is possible for a poet to dwell in bliss rather than gloom and to paint in empyrean pastels rather than cold gray. Drawing on a celestial view of the terrestrial sphere surrounding us, along with a large, milky measure of human kindness, Studdard begins at the (literal) beginning with “Creation Myth,” a garden of earthly retelling that would perhaps make an ascetic theologian blush, but the rest of us tingle with jubilance.

So there God lay, with her legs splayed,
birthing this screaming world

from her red velvet cleft, her thighs
cut holy with love

for all things…

It was her moment of victory:
the unveiling of seven billion milky breasts,

and she glowed—like a woman
in love with her own making, infatuated

with all corners of the blemished universe,
smitten with every imperfect thing;

splotchy, red-faced & wailing—
flawless in her omniscient eyes.

        It is not that the poet is oblivious to the tempestuous impulses of mind and flesh; in fact, her own passion is as fiery and ferocious as the Bible itself (in “Nirvana,” “tearing through/ Mother Earth’s most intimate/ fabric, ripping a frayed slit/ for yourself”), but Studdard chooses to conceptualize a God who is mostly merciful; to praise imperfection as beautiful; to see the cosmos as bathed in a luminous glow that keeps at bay the impetus of darkness (in “When You Do That,” “their tongues [are] alive/ with the ministry of light”); and to extol primal love as the key to just about everything. Certainly there is an acknowledgment that evil exists, but these poems put forth optimistic alternatives; for instance, in “No Philosopher Has Yet Solved the Problem of Evil,” while Studdard is disheartened that “the sunset forgot to tell them about its beauty/ Ditto the stars./ …blood on the floor/ worm in the blood,” she still urges us toward the possibility of the good: Didn’t they see the sunset? Didn’t they see the stars?

For Two Conversion Therapists Who Fell in Love and Became Gay Activists

…You’ve heard it said God sleeps in the stone,
dances in the kindling’s split stick. But who
knew she also rustled among cheap white sheets?
Don’t put a black light on those things.

Listen when God knocks on the door in the morning
and says, I brought you a paper, some orange juice,
and two Eden-colored plums…

          For Studdard, God, in all her feminine but forceful glory, is herself a pantheist, a mirror upon which material, yet ethereal, things are reflected (from “Starry Night, With Socks”: “And know now what Neruda saw: A sock can be/ the microcosm of all things good/ …A sock is a little, woolen god”). Of course, if there are socks, there must also be a washing machine available, and there is; the spin cycle merging with the cycle of life, where tangibles such as socks are infinitely significant and not relegated to the black hole (“and in the other room—/ the clothes in the washer,/ round and round they went, a spinning universe/ and next to them, a parallel world, the dryer/ connected by the same outlet,/ humming away// Washing clothes, I’ve since learned, is an act of prayer”). For Studdard, laundry day is no doubt a cosmic cleansing.

          And then there was light (“Lavender & rose—/ oh, how we paint these dreams/ blooming into light”). And at the end of the day, all roads lead not to perdition but to love, and poetry and art, which are extensions of that love.

Even the Linguist Goes Silent

The language of your thighs—
decapitated matches
still burning, decapitated verbs
spun loose, your body is a woodshed
filled with nouns…

Make poems of your toes, make novellas
of how light visits your iris. Translate you
into me, transcribe the files—the softest part.

          These poems neither deny nor ignore death, but for this poet, eternal rest is also infused with life. Waxing ekphrastic in “Killing the Moth,” Studdard muses on a painting of van Gogh’s in which he laments that in order to paint the moth, he had to kill it (“Artist, have you learned the moth?”). Similarly, the poem “For Baudelaire” reflects on inspiration and artistry born of death: (“I will write you a poem, a tribute to your beautiful decay/ …because, truly, this is beauty—this festering carcass in the woods….”).  Here again, dark is leavened with light.

I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast

It looked like a pancake,
but it was creation flattened out—
the fist of God on a head of wheat…

I brewed some tea and closed my eyes
while I ate the sun, the air, the rain,
photosynthesis on a plate.

I thought of the farmers, the truck drivers,
the grocers, the people
who made the bag that stored the wheat,
and my labor over the stove seemed short,
and the pancake tasted good,
and I was thankful.

          So Melissa Studdard begat poetry, and all was good, safe, and exultant. This sublime collection of poems is as glorious as the collective and connective macrocosm which the poet prefers to inhabit. Judging by the ecstatic sentiment of these pieces (“this desire to butter and eat the sky”), Studdard may very well have swallowed the whole cosmos for breakfast—but God bless her, she leaves her readers with all the tempting desserts that heaven will allow.

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