Eileen Chong’s Dark Matter is a book of layers (like an onion! or an ogre!), a series of poems in which almost every word has more than one meaning—and must be read more than once, to fully appreciate the nuances present.
Dark Matter begins with the cosmos. Its epigraph is taken from Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff.” In the pages that follow, Chong repeatedly brings star stuff home to earth. “Cosmos” might be named for the skies, but it is very much focused here on earth: “We are all perfectly imperfect— / each hairline crack a vein on the map.”
Chong moves from tenderness to sadness, from hope to moments of quiet, contained despair. In “Woman, Crying” she wishes she could be loud, could rage, could respond in kind to someone attacking her: “… I’d like / to have been the woman who made a scene. Instead, / I sat there and wept, unable to find the words [.]” Most of us may not have been in this precise situation, but we’ve been in our own versions, trapped in our own heads, unable to be “the woman who made a scene,” even if we wished we could. This star dust we share isn’t always happy.
Chong ties Dark Matter firmly to the skies, and anchors it just as decidedly in the bedrock of the difficult day-to-day emotions of our own humanity. Whether or not we’ve lived the precise situation, we know those emotions. Chances are we’ve felt them ourselves. For we are but star stuff, and share so much of our world—and of ourselves.