A Split Second of Light is that brief moment when (as the poet writes in an early poem) “A pinhole of light appears through the clouds” and what is beheld is cap­tured forever, whether by paints on canvas, pho­tographs in albums or words on paper. Stewart Flor­sheim, award winning San Fran­cisco Bay Area poet, once again dis­plays his talent for rec­og­nizing that exact moment, from clouds into clarity.

Because many of these poems are remem­brances from early childhood, ado­les­cence and adulthood, the book becomes more than a col­lection, and with Florsheim’s strength of seeing the words within a picture, the poems beg to be read in almost one sitting. The book is divided into three seamless sec­tions, each set apart with a pho­to­graph by Leon Boren­zstein, inter­na­tionally renowned pho­tog­rapher and also a Bay Area res­ident. Each pho­to­graph is accom­panied by a quote, one from Deuteronomy, Shake­speare and Woolf.

It is in an early poem, “Mother’s Favorite Drawing,” that the poet tells us flat out what the book will hold for the reader:

I am with her when she sees the drawing
at the gift shop after I drag her through the Met –

The poems will be about family and pic­tures and stories:

It’s the Käthe Kollwitz of a woman clutching
her child—my mother inter­ro­gating the child’s eyes

And more than that, by the end of this poem the reader knows exactly how important pic­tures, on a wall or on a page, can be:

Mother wants to hang it over her bed in a spot
framed now by the shadow of the fire escape,

the steps and ladder imposed over mother and child
bracing them forever in flight.

Light, both its source and its effect, is felt throughout the book as in these lines from “Exposed”: Next door our neighbors are singing in/​Hebrew, “Grace after Meals”: the fog lifts,/the stars assemble in a single word—Amen. Readers will rec­ognize Vermeer’s painting of “A Lady Writing,” but will see it again almost for the first time: …as if to say she’ll accept/​the pearls lying on the table:/from every corner of her eyes, yes, yes,/her feather pen about to float/​out of her hand, into the source of light./

Flor­sheim is a poet of depth and clarity, a poet who wastes nothing in words drawn from his heart and enriched by his Jewish culture. These poems capture and enlarge our under­standing of A Split Second of Light.

Does Sunny Solomon’s review tempt you?

Buy A Split Second of Light locally or look online at Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, or you can check out an IndieBound book­store.

Add Your Comments