Tears on the Glass Desert: Speculative Poetry of Holocaust Fallout & Decay by Wesley D. Gray
Review by Don Beukes
As a secret childhood reader of horror—books such as The Rats, by James Herbert or It by Stephen King—and glued to the television watching films like The Birds or Carrie, I knew I was hooked on this genre from an early age.
In Tears on the Glass Desert (Marrowroot Press, 2021), Wesley D. Gray both establishes and earns the subtitle Speculative Poetry of Holocaust, Fallout and Decay. In his own description of the book, Gray invites us to “savor the final three seconds before Doomsday” and to “step through the shattered glass door leading beyond The End and walk through the veil of an apocalyptic dreamscape” in his chapbook of twenty-four poems that “speculate on both the inevitabilities and the impossibilities of nuclear holocaust, the fallout it brings, and the aftermath of its Decay.”
We witness an actual “countdown” over three sequences packed with astonishing and realistic poetic acumen in this cinematic literary journey, taking us to what we might fear the most—the end of this world as we know it.
In the first sequence, “Three to Ignition,” we are immediately plunged into the last three seconds of humanity in the first poem, “23:59:57.” We are lulled into an almost hypnotic state by clever use of melodic near-rhymes such as chime/shine. Gray continues to lull us in the poem “Mushroom State,” in phrases such as igniting the nighttime, where assonance may conceal our awareness of the subject matter. This is also seen in this unique tug-of-words,
flail within the flames
waving like an ocean of enraged kelp
In the second sequence, I found unique cinematic scenes in the poem, “From Corn to Sea” with each stanza using the first person, I see, I fear, I run, I sail, I feel, I fade, I wake, I pull, I shudder, I rise, I hear. This leaves us with a strange and effective sensory overload, willing us to also see, feel, shudder, run, fear and fade. This line reminds me of the Alien films,
and my cheeks peel from the muscle, shreds
A revelatory moment comes upon the insight that perhaps the haunting figure on the cover might actually be the narrator. This awareness arrives in the poem, “Burning on re-entry,”
I was everything.
I was the gravity of a black hole
in the icy chars of a comet.
I hit the blue-domed atmosphere,
ready to split, ready to shatter.
I am ash,
a char upon the glass desert.
This collection is not for the fainthearted; it displays gore, guts and grime, while at the same time displaying the beauty of language. This sensory narrative gives an almost tactile impression of a nuclear fallout and the aftermath of decay. We see this in the poem, “Covet,”
When our bones
into the asphalt dream,
as I watched you turn to liquid
and your marrow
soak into earth,
Other equally chilling lines include, ash caskets rain from Eden’s Skyline, in “Prisoner Zero.” And in “Witness to a Schoolyard Burial” we find, Atomic children stir below the grasses, / continuing education in soil spit. And in “Impressions,”
gullies filled with flakes of flesh,
their fodder-formed whispers
curdled, weaved in dust.
In the last poem, “A Final Visitation to our Monumental Glass Desert,” Gray holds our attention with lines such as, bone canyons with web-nested eyes / spilling regret from cavernous sockets, and continues the spell to these very last lines,
Blood and tears
are encased within
like swirls inside a marble,
mixed with all that liquid skin,
curled in slithers of flesh-resin tongues.
Gray’s thoughts go beyond the poems, as we find in his own description of the book’s lingering questions: Let us witness the horrors of an apocalyptic dreamscape. Let us witness the horrors that await these lucky ones called survivors . . . What will become of our Children of the Fallout? Will they live beyond Death’s second coming, or are they simply doomed to fade away?
In his first chapbook, Come Fly with Death – Poems Inspired by the Artwork of Zdzislaw Beksinski (Marrowroot Press), and in his horror novel, Feeding Lazarus (Jaded Books Publishing), Gray displays equally gruesome language and his great skill at writing horror. His work reminds me of Stephen King. In all of these books, he poses existential questions for humanity.
As an author of fiction and a poet, Wesley D. Gray is a writer of things that are mostly strange. He is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association, as well as a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. His other books include Come Fly with Death: Poems Inspired by the Artwork of Zdzislaw Beksinski, and the horror novel, Feeding Lazarus (originally published as Rafe Grayson). When he isn’t writing, Wesley enjoys geek status while claiming to be: a tabletop gamer, a reader, a dreamer, a veteran, a Trekkie, a Whovian, an amateur photographer, a radiographer, nature-lover, coffeeholic, boxed wine enthusiast, and an all-around nice guy, among other things. He resides in Florida with his wife and two children. Learn more at the author’s website: WesDGray.com.
Don Beukes is a South African, British and EU writer. He has written Ekphrastic Poetry since 2015 collaborating with artists internationally. He is the author of The Salamander Chronicles, Icarus Rising-Volume 1 (ABP), an ekphrastic collection and Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Concrete Mist Press). He taught English and Geography in both South Africa and the UK. His poetry has been anthologized in numerous collections and translated into Afrikaans, Persian, French, Kreole (Mauritius) and Albanian. He was nominated by Roxana Nastase, editor of Scarlet Leaf Review for the Best of the Net in 2017 as well as the Pushcart Poetry Prize (USA) in 2016. He was published in his first SA Anthology In Pursuit of Poetic Perfection in 2018 (Libbo Publishers) and his second Cape Sounds in 2019 (Gavin Joachims Publishing, Cape Town). He is also an amateur photographer and his debut Photographic publication appeared in Spirit Fire Review in June 2019.
Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.