I’ve Never Said a Bird Before: A Review of Dalton Day’s “Actual Cloud” by Eloise Sims

Austin, Texas, may seem like the unlikeliest location for a selection of poetry that aches of Nordic mountains. But then again, Dalton Day is not, by any means, stymied by convention. His poems dart through the wilderness, as quick, fog-like glimpses of thought. We run with him through forests, down beaches, over lakes. And we don’t stop running.

From the very outset, Day’s poems strike me as incredibly similar to the musician Jónsi Birgisson’s solo album- who you may know as the ethereal lead singer of the incredible Sigur Ros. His words tie in beautifully with the soaring lilt of the Icelandic singer.

Perhaps their similarity is in their shared talent for creating soft, clear, achingly pure moments. “We just keep building/A collapse.” Day writes in Beat Next, a solemn resignation to an inevitable and recurring destruction of selves. It is a metaphor that haunts the poems to follow, summarizing a relationship that Day cannot seem to let go of. “I know you here/know you hear.” He subsequently writes in Doubt in Maybe- a desperate, self-comforting statement. His emotion is illuminated in these stark declarations, transposed with images of a winter that will seemingly never end.

Yet, as solemn as Day can be, “Actual Cloud” features treasured images of pure joy. “I like your name/When I say it/I’ve never said a bird before”. He writes in Take the Body Apart, as if with a shy smile. Later on, in the first section of poems, he concludes with a fierce affirmation in the lyrical Stitched Me Up. “We can make it proud/of the people/that said/You aren’t done yet.” He insists, returning to his poignant optimism.

However, Day’s most powerful poems are clearly his deliberately unstructured ones. In the “Dream House” sequence of poems, Day’s words seem to exist on the verge between dreaming and sleeping. “I uncling myself from the morning” he sighs, and then, mournfully, later on, “we require belief/Even at our most breakable.” The fragile simplicity of this realization is what gives it power. The entire “Dream House” series seems to align a sober existential crisis with drunken whispers.

Day’s words are the kind you want to singularly pin on your noticeboard- a Polaroid print of some place you’ve never been but always dreamed of. The second section of poems in “Actual Cloud” is the perfect example of this. This section, to me, aches of desperation of feeling. There is pain, and beauty in it, Day seems to conclude. “Whatever trees we used to be/have been scabbed by scars” He writes in Sick Good. Despite this resignation to agony, coupled with a somber recognition of ugliness, Day always finishes with a brighter note- positivity and acceptance of change, which emanates throughout the chapbook. “Your head is beautiful/I swear it is.” He concludes in Rest Mass.

The second section is intriguing in the way that it seems to primarily focus on an unnamed person- the effervescent, hypnotizing, untouchable “you”. Most of the poems in this section are written as a reflection to the beauty and power of this person; a neon-fisted (Wore Thousand, 29), prismatic-skinned (Unglitched & Solid, 28), almost supernatural being that Day seems to struggle to contain within his words. And then, as the third section approaches, Day darts away from his subject once more, leaving us with a blurred yet prevailing picture of deep-rooted admiration.

Possibly my personal favorite poem in this collection (and there are many runners-up) is the unassuming“Diagnosis #2”. The poem runs as a subtle prayer, a continuing wish for a loved one to grow and expand beyond what they are capable of. “Run like you used to”, Day instructs, and then, “Don’t be sorry/for not meeting/the sun/halfway”.  There’s something about these proclaims that draw the reader in, as if directly addressed. Perhaps it’s the final line- “Even though I can’t/promise you/I promise you”. Day talks as if to a child, but, perhaps, he is talking to his reader. Maybe there is hope; he seems to say. Do not give up. Run free. It will turn out all right. What better lesson is there to take from poetry like this?

Day ends the chapbook with a series labeled TANDEM, published previously as an individual digital chapbook by Fruita Pulp. Each poem begins with a “Hello”, yet go their separate ways. The entire book concludes with the line “We/are expected/to leave”, a solemn note. Yet, with Day’s poetry, you don’t feel like you’re leaving at all. You wait for him to dive down another side street, and take you somewhere completely new.

Buy “Actual Cloud” here.

Eloise Sims

Eloise Sims is a freshman at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, studying Politics and History. She was the 2014 recipient of the RANZCOG Senior Women's Health Writing Award, as well as a finalist in Eat Your Words 2014. Her articles and short stories have been published in books and magazines in the United States and New Zealand. In her spare time, (admittedly, not a lot), she listens to a lot of Kanye West, works for UN Youth New Zealand, and writes human rights features for The Adroit Journal's blog.

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