In D.S. Martin’s Angelicus, spirited new poems embody celestial beings from “beyond the beyond.” Summoned for us by the poet, various members of the heavenly host greet us, eager to warn, hearten, and instruct. I was surprised again and again.
Cherubim prove formidable yet tender:
Our wings are quartets of glory & our fourfold faces turn
toward the round earth's imagined corners giving you
a framework O child of clay against which to view
That promised framework morphs according to the angel’s personality and purpose. Cloudlike, from section to section even poetic forms seem to travel thermals: blocks of text morph to dropped line stanzas; margins-within-margins give way to stair-stepping strophes. There are gaps and shadows and backlit glories. Martin’s trademark ampersands and white spaces used in lieu of punctuation seem to float on the page, suggesting a visual timelessness. They also partner with rhyme. Deftly honed prosody holds hands with psalmic utterance laced with a hint of rap: “ice and fire/ in the parch-throated choir”—says one messenger, while another observes angels are “sent/ to the bent.”
Angelicus grapples with big themes; it’s also mischievous.
We see you all love games that show
how much you know the puzzles
you're able to master faster
One herald riffs:
a glorious onomatopoetic cock-a-doodle-doo drawn from every
There is mirth and magic here, riding shotgun with mystery. Perusing the table of contents, one senses the poet has eavesdropped on a cosmic gabfest. Martin’s wingèd cadre alternately reminisces, bemoans, and consoles. They also exhort us.
I call on you to recall the height
from which you have fallen
And with that, gravity overtakes me: personal worries, weather gone mad, wars, extinctions, toxic national conversation. Weighed down, I yearn for the long view. I read the following and, for a moment, the clouds part:
Oh if you saw how the eyeblue tinge
of your home floats in space you’d
feel its lyrical pull
I am drawn into contagious reverence, gratitude. I keep reading.
Martin’s angels are curious. Entertaining. I’m intrigued by seraphic speculation, even droll pet peeves (“Teen Angel” and “Putto Putto Putti”). The more I read, the more I feel invisibly companioned. Amid days of sometimes groping for the way forward, examples of angelic humility offer a kindly scaffold.
Though not allowed to know I must still be ready
From ancient times to present-day dilemmas these bloodless beings, variously assigned, voice wisdom and wonderment. Angelicus, by turns contemplative, catastrophic, and comic, brings us nuanced whispers from history as well: Augustine, Dante, Donne, Dickinson, Rilke, Ferlinghetti. Expect polar bears, “the most angelic of beasts.” Read “An Angel Watches It’s a Wonderful Life” and rethink Zuzu’s petals. Watch for outliers, classical paintings, epic special effects:
first flown like a bolt of lightning
from God’s glance
An angel will innocently upend assumptions:
Not everything is to be done on earth
as it is in heaven As the angelic host
the earthly unknown that puzzles us most
is the first not good was about man being alone
Startling as drops of rain from a metaphorical cloudscape, Martin’s word derivations catch the ear and eye: onomatopoetics, angelological, devilbread. In the final poem, “fulgour” arrests me. It means “splendor, a dazzling brightness,” an esoteric yet fitting capstone, well-earned.
Vast in scope yet intimate, this beckoning collection encompasses galaxies as well as souls. Evoking laughter while coaxing further reflection, Angelicus urges a winsome revolution, deep in the heart. O child of clay, you’re invited to see the Dispatcher of Wings against new sky. Like the young William Blake, D.S. Martin continues to serve “an apprenticeship of perceiving” propelled by questions that will, hopefully, beget many more.
The familiar conceals as much as it reveals
If you suspect a stranger might be angelic
whether shimmering or dim
I say invite him in
Laurie Klein is the author of Where the Sky Opens and Bodies of Water, Bodies of Flesh. A Ruminate contributor and grateful recipient of the Thomas Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred, she lives in the Pacific Northwest. https://lauriekleinscribe.com/
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