Cheryl Dumesnil’s books include the 2008 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize winner, In Praise of Falling, the memoir Love Song for Baby X: How I Stayed (Almost) Sane on the Rocky Road to Parenthood, and the anthology Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos, co-edited with Kim Addonizio.
The poems in Showtime at the Ministry of Lost Causes are survival songs, the tunes you whistle while walking through the Valley of Shadows, to keep your fears at bay and your spirit awake. The shadows here are many—cancer, poverty, a lost love, famine, suicide, war, an ever-encroaching existential angst. But so are the saving graces—a drag queen waitress whose “painted-on eyebrows arched like a bridge / toward starlight,” “strawberries / grown fat around dimpled gold seeds,” Pink Floyd’s “‘On the Turning Away’ sent through my car / radio like the ghost voice of a beloved long dead,” black phoebes rattling “winter / thistles, swollen throats percussing: / this is this is this is . . . ” Showtime at the Ministry of Lost Causes reminds us that where there is shadow there must, necessarily, also be light.
The poems in this collection are the proverbial spring bulbs abandoned in the basement, growing toward a slim crack of sunlight. They are both aware of the limitations of social structures and forcefully committed to breaking out of those traps, urging toward a better way of living. The characters in these poems resist the twenty-first century’s prescription for a life of emotional-spiritual bankruptcy, reaching toward an ever-elusive glimmer on the horizon.