(New Jersey: Serving House Books, 2018)
Angela M. Brommel’s debut poetry chapbook, Plutonium & Platinum Blonde, is both a séance in the Mojave Desert and a haunting love letter to Las Vegas. It delivers us to the center of America’s nuclear bomb testing era and explodes in a sweltering “Valley of Fire.” It is both seductive and devastating.
The showgirls in this collection are not poolside-lounging, red-lipped bombshells in white bikinis. Rather, as in the poem “Miss Atomic and the Bomb,” Miss Atomic is the one to push the red button. Mass destruction is hers to own:
In the bathroom covered in light
I bit the towel to hold the scream.
It was my first time with mass destruction.
In another poem, “Miss Atomic at Home,” Miss Atomic is revealed as the kind of girl “who knows just when to drop her dress.” That is, except when the timing is off and Mercury goes retrograde. Here the iconic image of Miss Atomic Bomb from the 1950s, with her blonde curls bouncing in the wind and her arms swinging in the air, assumes a darker tone:
When she throws her arms up in the air all of Mercury takes cover:
White Cloud & Fear
In 1951, the first explosion in the Nevada Proving Ground was said to be so great that the flash could be seen from San Francisco. Over the next four decades, the United States conducted hundreds of nuclear tests earning the Nevada desert the nickname: the most bombed place on Earth. Rooted in this landscape, Brommel’s poems slice through the glitz of the neon strip with precise diction and control. Her lines are supple yet unfussy:
Here you are in the middle of the night digging under a full moon
trying not to think about the berries on the shrub
you did not want, and what if you were wrong.
Similarly, in the poems “From Highway 89,” and “Home Means Nevada,” Brommel marshals precise details and attention to setting, conjuring a unique combination of dark and neon, plutonium and platinum, that perfectly captures the feeling of being homesick:
the darkness of mid-December dims
for dreamless sleep in a land of neon.
Many of the poems in this collection manifest an awareness of place and an appreciation for landscape, as in the poem “Mojave in July,” where you discover your childhood hideout “under the evergreens where you used to sit for hours.” Brommel seamlessly interweaves these images with layers of desert scents: “the comforting smell of clay pots in your grandmother’s kitchen;” dirt, sap and pine; sage and rosemary. Then she brings us to the fire:
Let the heat draw out everything unneeded.
Let it put you to bed midday.
Let it make you new.
Plutonium & Platinum Blonde uncovered a fiery desert where I sat transfixed, unable and unwilling to walk away. Such is the beauty of Brommel’s landscape. She makes no attempt to dilute the heat. Rather, she ignites a match in the body and invites us to gloriously burn.
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Letisia Cruz is a Cuban-American writer and artist. Her first book of graphic poetry titled The Lost Girls Book of Divination is available from Tolsun Books.