A Chemical Reaction: Reale’s The Marie Curie Sequence

The thirteen poems in “The Marie Curie Sequence” by Michelle Reale are surprising. Some are straightforward poems and the others are prose poems. I didn’t know anything about Marie Curie’s life other than that she was a scientist so I read with no preconceived ideas. It quickly became clear that these poems are the dreamy interpretation of an intelligence that is a lot like Curie.

The subject matter is love, a scientific love affair and another love affair with a man who may or may not be imagined, may or may not be dead.

In Genus, Reale writes “What might be found in your estate are remnants of blood and membrane, bits of bone.” In Stately, “My blue organza hem touches the top of your unpolished shoes.” In Refractive, “Love deepens by chemical gradation, notebooks held furtively to chest, filaments preserved.” In Spectrum, “Nothing could halt the fluidity of the flame; the flicker itself held the promise of what the human eye could behold; similar to the prayer and stillness of the pious anchorite.” In La Mort, “The light in his eyes when he handed them to me, everything alive, I could feel the quiver of the long stems.”

The language is romantic, smart, lush, and yet controlled. There isn’t excess emotion flung at the reader. You’re left knowing something personal about the struggle between work life and love life. To be able to do one’s work and to integrate it successfully with love is a universal theme for women. I was also left with the sense that Marie didn’t achieve integration yet she continued on with her work regardless, which is admirable.

I particularly liked the way the poems move from first person to the plurality of we, ending with Marie spoken of as “she.” In Rêver, “Our work is a bulwark against the world, segmented and apportioned.” The last prose poem is Afterglow, which is written in third person, “The glow from her long skirts, hanging, aloof and unanimated, illuminates the room.”

I fell in love with the language. In the end, I cared about the scientist and her struggles, but I cared more about the poet who’d given birth to these luminous and potent images.

Photo of the Author.

Dancing Girl Press, 2017

You can purchase this chapbook here.