Since 1996 Volume XXI

Joan Gelfand

Poetry Reviews

By Joan Gelfand


Alkali Sink

Stella Beratlis


Sixteen Rivers Press

ISBN: 978-1-939-639-06-6



“An alkali sink also known as a salt flat or salina, is a habitat found in …some parts of the California Central Valley. The sink is hot and dry, and plant species that thrive there have adapted to grow in the salt-crusted hardpan.”


While Beratlis supplies the scientific definition, the title of her debut collection suggests nothing less than toxic depression. In this memoir, we meet a poet who has adapted to the ‘salt crusted hardpan.’


Beratlis’ place is not the California of majestic redwoods nor the wide, thrilling Yuba, Eel, Trinity and Sacramento Rivers. This is ‘backstage’ where the child of immigrants must fend for herself. In a hard pan life of a dysfunctional family, Beratlis finds beauty.


Is that not the test of a poet? To find the gorgeous under the gross, the sweet under the putrid, the warm under the bitter cold?


Growing up under the care of Greek parents and grandparents, this may well be the world of the immigrant today; take what you can even if it’s wild mustard by the side of the road, mind your manners (how to drink metzcal at a funeral) and above all: don’t forget your roots.


But how far can you go? “All roads lead back to Forklift, California” writes Beratlis in

Has our heroine escaped, or is she repeating the mistakes of her forebears?

The men Beratlis describes are truck driving, auto loving, hard, boozing, abusive and criminals; the women wear black, cook, bake and suffer their fate.


And still, Beratlis mines the beautiful: “Altamount of my rib/Aqueduct of your chest,” “This bowl of farm is mermaidful,” and “expansive cabbage.” Loss is life, freedom is a rarity and ‘Hunger was not just a distant thought but a chemical memory in her muscles.’


Copyright, 2017, Joan Gelfand.
All Rights Reserved.


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