Skip to content

The Lamps of History, Michael Sandler

February 16, 2021

One of the things I like best about Michael Sandler’s volume of poems, The Lamps of History, is the way the images can take me almost entirely out of the poem–into imagining scenes from my own life–and then reel me back in, making me react to the rest of the experience as if it were from a life I knew something about. For instance, in “When Literature Made Something Happen,” I am invited to “sit… in a gilded czarist theater/where dusty chandeliers suggest a courtliness that crimson velvet,/masking an imperial crest above the stage, overrides.” That makes me think of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires where I once sat awed in a chair that looked and felt like a throne, and that image makes me feel some of what a character in the poem must have felt as a young girl, in a “witness chair” with adults demanding that she tell them “what they talked about” until she finally “blurts/ Tolstoy.”

I remember being on the ocean around Maui when I read about how “our kayak barely yaws/ when a giant turtle breasts through cyan-green.”

None of the poems use image to ground me in experience better than “A Cubist Confronts Monday,” in which we get nostalgic images of going to work in the time before the pandemic, reflected back with sadness because many of us no longer see “planes of my face, groin, buttocks/slip into a ready slot, a tower’s/revolving door, showing my every side/ to mammon’s guards.”

Another thing I like about these poems is the slightly-amused-while-also-terribly-serious take on necromancy in “Impediments,” about a dead loved one and the still-living speaker’s urge to atone: “like you, I don’t admit/ the dead commune,/ although perhaps you’re still adept/ at penetrating gesture and look.”

Best of all, though, I like the poems about what it’s like to get old. “Bottle Cap” is one of my two favorites, with its final image of the cap sent flying “over the back fence/of childhood, when small/ seemed useful and the useless never/ nothing and nothing had gone flat.” And “Acer Saccharum” reminds me of something my father once said about not recognizing “that old man in the mirror” when he caught a glimpse first thing in the morning.

Acer Saccharum

This lofty tree guarding our northerly park
looks ready to turn. Splashes of leaves yellowing
at the edge, yet essentially green within,
the way some of us say we feel inside—
who doesn’t, shambling through duff, believe
they weren’t that different at 25,

that brittle arteries won’t run with sap
next March, or that the mind, though fibrous, isn’t
still as sharp, as the Latin word suggests
(the Romans made their spear shafts out of maple).

My buds, welts with a past, tighten their fists
for winter, quieting leaf-promises
of breath and rain grieved into sugared drips,
of one more honeyed ring in acrid flesh.

I received a copy of this volume from the author as part of a TLC Book Tour.

If you read these poems, I think that some of the images from The Lamps of History might stick with you for a while after you turn the last page.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2021 6:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing that poem! Just lovely.

    • February 17, 2021 10:43 am

      I’m so glad you liked it!
      It was nice to think about a tree growing–even if it is getting old–during this period of seeming stasis, with temperatures hovering around zero and snow covering everything.

  2. Sara Strand permalink
    February 16, 2021 6:53 pm

    I’m glad that you enjoyed this! Thank you for being on the tour. Sara @ TLC Book Tours

    • February 17, 2021 10:44 am

      My pleasure! I don’t often participate in tours anymore, but you were right that I would like this volume and should make an exception.

  3. February 17, 2021 12:37 pm

    This sounds like a lovely collection. It’s always a treat when poems pull out your own memories and sensations to add richness to them.

    • February 18, 2021 8:05 am

      Yes, when the poet creates images evocative enough to let readers associate their own memories and sensations with what’s happening in the poem.


  1. Michael Sandler, author of The Lamps of History, on tour February 2021 | TLC Book Tours

your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: