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.