The Breath before Birds Fly ~ M.E. Silverman

2nd Place Finalist ~ 2013 ELJ Publications Chapbook Contest

The Breath before Birds Fly

About the Book:

Interweaving the themes of longing and family, M. E. Silverman constructs beauty in the language of each line. He focuses on the important matters of life, combing his Jewish background and upbringing. But these poems are not just for Jews. It is much more universal. Through reoccurring imagery of water and earth/mud, one gets easily swept away with mud angels, a modern day Noah shopping at Lowes, the last mermaid, hurricanes, a victim of abuse, a dybbuk mud man, a modern day Baba-Yaga, and more. We discover a part of ourselves in each and recognize the longing of those who “stand savage with all one has.” Silverman has such rich subject matter. He sees Jerusalem “ghosting with holiness.” He watches “while the soapy, silent moon / gives what slender, tired light / it can.” In Russia, an old woman sees “tress are silent / with frost, / bitter like iron chains.” At the Holocaust Memorial Museum, a “miracle” occurs as “the stacked shoes begin to rise / leisurely, like puppets on strings / [and] silently sweep through the air like Astaire and Rogers”. This is more than a chapbook; it is a dance with language.

About the Author:

M. E. Silverman, editor of the Blue Lyra Review, moved in the wake of Katrina from New Orleans to Georgia, where he now teaches at Gordon College. His work has appeared in 70 magazines including Crab Orchard Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Los Angeles Review, Pacific Review, Many Mountains Moving, Naugatuck River Review, The Broad River Review, Storysouth, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Sugar House Review, New Vilna Review, Cloudbank, Mizmor L’david Anthology: The Shoah, Because I Said So: Anthology, Knocking at the Door: Anthology, and other journals and anthologies. M. E. Silverman was a finalist for the 2008 New Letters poetry award, the 2008 Denovo Contest and the 2009 Naugatuck River Review contest. Currently, he is working on editing a contemporary Jewish American anthology of poetry with Deborah Ager forthcoming from Bloomsbury Press (2013) and he is editing two other anthologies. He is also on the board of 32 poems. He lives with his wife, his daughter, and Marie, the unwanted cat who daily breaks into their house through the heating vents.


M.E. Silerman’s chapbook The Breath before Birds Fly, recently published by Emerge Literary Journal, brims with powerful imagery rooted in the casual detail. The poems stand connected through themes, images and ideas: there are fathers, both lost and found; birds floating into and out of our existence; the ever presence of water as both a destructive and constructive force, and perspectives on Judaism from all ages.

In the collection’s opening work, “Fumes,” Silverman juxtaposes the image of a “mosquito meals on my arm” with that of angry father being left by his family. This father pays for familial crimes from atop his outdoor throne: “On the busted porch,/Father crushes cans, smokes,/strikes.” On one hand the child narrator cares so little for their person, ignoring the bug, allowing it to dine, while on the other the father glares, surrounded by his destruction as he busts up the family with each smoke filled stare. Do we hate this man? Does the author? This is not the typical dad left us woe is me poem, but rather an expressive exploration of how and why two women became refuges from their own family unit.

Later, in “After You Left,” one cannot help but hear a father’s ghost staring at a homemade bridge, the plank kind built for small bodies to cross a stream into adventure: “I arrive on this plank-board bridge/built before you left.” Leaving, it seems, represents the problem—the character, perhaps an abandoned father or lonely soul, finds memory in the casual discovery. Sometimes people are gone, sometimes things are beyond repair, yet the tiny bridge can persevere, leaving haunting memories of love, joy, and passion. These memories will resurface in a “Ritual for Learning History,” where Silverman notes how a grown man can go gaga for matzah balls and a bottle of wine can allow even a strong man to spill soul in an effort to glorify his childhood. Whether true or false, we witness a visage of bygone days and ritual sacrifice as well as an excuse to eat scalding hot food in front of an adult child: “Father loves matzah balls more than me,/more than anyone. He doesn’t pause for them/ to cool, a child with a prize.” He gave back then, he can have now.

Such paternal themes reoccur, prompting the reader to consider not only the author’s relationship with their progenitor, but also their own. How do we feel about dear old dad? Is the drunken stumbling man hanging in the background of “Noah Shops for an Ark,” falling into a hardware store’s nail display, our patriarch: “Noah, nervous and sweaty,/crumples onto a small stack/of hollow display boxes?” Or do we have the dad that laments over the childhood, spilling their past while holding back a tear? Are we afraid to find out?

The very same ark Noah built finds a new home in “What I know about Jerusalem Rain,” this time in the form of a child’s dream: “head toward something solid,/toward the ark we imagine we built/when we were young,/ still stock-piling.” We want to know these dreams, to float and pass through such a prestigious city with the splendor of a young child. This yearning extends on in “Echo Locating,” where the dreams that once filled the ark are expressed in the open search for self. It is here that Silverman expresses man’s innate desire to both find and understand the self, intuitively placing the product of said exploration into the hands of an unseen force that emanates both from and back toward us. We live in the echo of our perception, and Silverman’s words cement this fact.

In a creating a collection, Silverman succeeds in both captivating and entertaining the reader. These poems flow, they have logical connection, and spiritual meaning. The Breath before Birds Fly, is now available through

~ Steven Stam

I don’t write reviews. I had to do so for this book. The cover was so beautiful and the title so attractive that I had to get this! The book is even dedicated to me, well, any reader actually which is nice.

Only 23 poems, this feels heavy and solid more like a book than a chap. From the beginning, we are exposed to a world of beauty and longing, a world of melancholy and family: “The day mother and I leave, two / Canada geese arrive– / their long, black necks arrow / toward the pond and fold into themselves / like cocktail napkins. I hope….” Through nature and imagery the reader connects to the words, feels the story in each piece. I love the line breaks, so moving: “two”, “arrive”, “arrow”, “themselves”, and “hope”. Why aren’t more people reading this?

In the next poem, there is an angel or father or farmer, definitely something old like out of Marquez: “In the barn, he removes / and folds his clipped wings, / a blue-gray from age….. his back bare with ghost limbs….”

I could easily go through each poem. I love the one where he addresses God in “After You Left” and the Hurricane poem that takes a different angle, narrating almost drowning from the point of view of a preacher/rabbi’s son. He begins with “Because I always wanted one, / my father has pulled a hairless cat / out of my chest”. How can you not want to read on? The writer does this again and again, taking the topics heard so often and flipping them to a different angle. For example, “Miracle Shoes” is about the Holocaust Museum and the famous exhibit of stacked shoes, yet they take a magical realism angle as they float and dance in the air until “the shoes start to slip through” an open door. The title of the book can be found in this poem.

When the writer says “Sometimes we all feel like the last, / a single stick in a rushing river”, how can one not nod and know this poet speaks to each of us as every poet should. While so many don’t, this one captivates even those who do not know and read poetry!

Here is one poem in its entirety: “Echo Locating”

If you are lucky
you will find your echo,
not the cartoon version,
perched on a canyon’s edge
with the empty yelling
and cheeks like apples,
but the space that extends you,
fills the void
and becomes you
the way twigs return to a tree,

~ Eli Wolfman