GATHERING BROKEN LIGHT by Heather Lang-Cassera
Gathering Broken Light confronts pasts we cannot understand, largely following the October 2017 mass shooting. Anchored in the severity and the beauty of the Mojave Desert landscape, fractured narratives, surrealist repetition, and imagistic lyricism work to contemplate grief, including both overwhelming sorrow and deep love. To those lost by gun violence, a voice yearns, “I wish I could sing the sky to you.”
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Heather Lang-Cassera’s Gathering Broken Light is an extended meditation on the shattering legacies of American gun violence. Dedicated to the victims and survivors of the October 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Gathering Broken Light grapples with the unspeakable. In lyric, light-infused poems evoking the dramatic beauty of the Mojave Desert, Lang-Cassera repeatedly confronts language’s limitations to represent trauma—“these metaphors attempt to dissociate / or to try to understand, / but nothing in between” or “I took words & placed them on my tongue, / a quiet catapult for what / I cannot say”—while still, nonetheless, insisting on the reparative linguistic rituals of elegy. The untitled poems seamlessly flow from one to another: ekphrastic poems glaze random discarded objects documented in Getty news photographs of the shooting with heartbreakingly tender attention, while recurring poems beginning with the words “in an alphabet of grief” attempt to articulate a lexicon of trauma. Gathering Broken Light is a gorgeous canticle that powerfully catalogues personal and collective griefs within a ruptured and rupturing world.
—Lee Ann Roripaugh, author of tsunami vs. the fukushima 50
With the exquisite control of evocative language and the brilliant use of repetition, the intimacy of Gathering Broken Light mirrors the persistence of trauma and resilience. Lang-Cassara guides us through the deepest rooms of grief, both collective and personal, with both stunning and haunting attention to image—“one before the summoning of ghosts, / one before the faces washed pale by floodlights, / one before the eyes wider than the mouths / of oh, holy night.” This lyrical engagement with loss laces together the fragmented and unanswerable questions a community contends with when recovering from a tragedy with such harrowing effects as the October 1 mass shooting. I felt invited to bring my own ache to a collection that renders the reader captivated with a tension and a longing so deeply felt and known that it becomes an offering to both the bereaved and a beloved city, which shimmers, even as it breaks, with belonging.
--Jennifer Battisti, author of Off Boulder Highway
Let us not forget. Poetry can help us to fulfill that admonition. In the tradition of such testaments as Chris Llewellyn’s Fragments from the Fire, remembering the garment workers killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, and Valerie Martínez’s Each and Her, remembering the hundreds of women and girls murdered in Ciudad Juaréz, Heather Lang-Cassera’s Gathering Broken Light remembers to us those killed, those injured, those aggrieved in the 1 October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas. These poems attend to detail: “the abandoned napkin is a collapsed cloud”; “A trampled cup is a deserted snow globe”; “The aluminum can is a failing telescope.” Such careful observation of what was left behind is remembrance of what was taken away. Heather Lang-Cassera’s “alphabet of grief” makes Gathering Broken Light one quiet, wise way of “confronting / pasts we cannot understand.”
--H. L. Hix, author of Rain Inscription