Moon Crumbs, Sheila Dong’s debut chapbook, is crammed full of satisfying prose poems, bloated with imagery and scenery both surreal and emotional; it’s chock full of awe for the world and anxiety about the meaning objects carry. One of the quintessential poems in this book is a good descriptor for the effect of this chap: “Dizzying.” This piece is an ode to (art) objects and their inherently dual meaning and mystery. While surreal, these dizzying images always hit the reader’s reward center because they feel inherently true. “We walked inside a drained swimming pool,” she writes, “like the surface of a new planet.” Like the drained swimming pool, Moon Crumbs is comfortingly familiar and excitingly alien, lonely but also exhilarating.
Moon Crumbs’ poems are not only centered around dizzying imagery but loaded with correlative emotional weight, often about death-related anxiety or the sadness of love and loneliness. In a poem called “Waning Gibbous” she writes, “I feel old enough to tell you: each year we pass through the date of our death unaware.” In “Surprise!,” where birthdays breed from birthdays like dividing cells, Dong writes, “When I reach the moon I am so little that I nestle comfortably into the pore of a lunar rock. So little that I wade in a ball pit of atoms. I can see the earth growing sugary towers like fine hair.” Alongside beautiful imagery there is stark loneliness, the desire to curl up apart from what we might naturally think of home, a metaphor perhaps for the isolation death might bring, or the boundaries that come with having an earthly body.
For Dong, each crumb of the moon is its own world. I often find that poems about using imagery from space both magnify and minimize the puzzle that is humanity; like looking through both sizes of a microscope, the reader might see something at first as large as a planet and then as small as a mite or freckle. These shifting magnifications help us see everyday mundanity from Roth IRAs to “opalescent tweezers” cast in a new shard of moonlight. In Moon Crumbs, readers are able to cup the new in our hands for a moment, only to release it back into its own exciting freedom of excess.