Dalton Day is a cloud with whale feelings and bones made of knives. He tells us this in the opening pages of Actual Cloud, his first book of poems. He tells us he is growing a whale in his belly. That he is filled with sand but he is not a desert. He keeps his language and sentence structure simple. He doesn’t need a thesaurus to tell us he is a house that has not been built. That he is a lake and so are you. That he is sorry. He is so many things. He tells us this. He tells us that the sun is a nice thing to have close by. That it is a ball to be kicked. He tells us he loves mountains. That he is standing beneath an upside-down mountain. He tells us so many things.
Day makes these definitive statements all throughout the book, but he makes no claims at certainty. These are unsure facts, still being tested. “Everything is a mountain” sends a vibration out, and then a few poems later, “There are no mountains” comes chasing after it. This is the poetry of a young person trying to figure out life and the world and life. Someone trying to prove things to his body, prove things to himself. Someone allowing himself to reach his full airplane potential.
Day uses physical objects rather than concepts to figure all this out. There are Clouds and Mountains in this book. Bells, birds, bears, blood banks, and cake in this book. Knees, bruises, dirt, fur, feathers, atoms, lakes, lanterns, gardens. Planes, telephones, refrigerator lights, lungs, moths, moons, maps, petals, paper, apples. Eggs, owls, animals, cars, trees, teeth, swords, ships, shirts, hair, walls, wings, islands, kitchens, planets, doorknobs, dogs, wolves, horses in this book. Ghosts. There are ghosts in this book.
The word “thing” appears a lot. “When I say thing / I mean thing.” Even when things like worry or calm or death are brought up, they feel tangible, as if calm were a segment of the brain that could be lifted out and inspected. Adjusted and reinserted. Dalton is afraid of death. He tells us this. He is terrified of drowning. Maybe this is why there are no full stops in these poems. The lines are short and they let their breaks do the work of punctuation. Even questions lack their marks.
The poems don’t run together. They are clearly delineated, one to a page, title at the top. But images repeat and so do patterns and rhythms. Sentences are followed by their doppelgängers, something slightly off, just one word changed or missing. “This could end badly / This could end.” Sentence structures repeat repeat repeat. They are ripples on the same lake. Made from the same water. And when the ripples reach the land, they keep going. Furrowing the earth. Climbing mountains all the way up to the clouds.
My favorites of these poems are the ones where the objects and phrases are strewn across the page as if it were a bedroom floor. White gaps stretch between the words like oceans between members of long distance relationships. Day tells us that “it’s easy to name most things.” Then he leaves space for the things he can’t name. Not only do these poems contain objects, they feel like objects themselves. We can see how they were put together, the cogs are turning right before our eyes.
There is a you in these poems and an I. Does that make them love poems? Yes. Day writes joyously. He is passionate even when discussing the most commonplace things. He doesn’t just love the you in these poems, he loves the you who is reading them, the you who is reading this review. He loves the whole world. He tells us this. He says hello. He is a little thing today. Who knows what he will be tomorrow.
Actual Cloud, by Dalton Day. Salò Press (UK). 100 pages. £11.99, paper.
Jackson Nieuwland likes unicorns.