Filling the Void: The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From The Void by Jackie Wang

While reading The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From the Void by Jackie Wang, I found myself in a world of dreams: “the air of apocalypse is all around as I walk beneath millions of satellites” and “I turn to face the battered gorge / There is breath in the crease / Sleep there / When it’s time.” Wang offers a refreshing method of how dreams reposition themselves and create rhythm in poetry. In each sequence, trauma and hopefulness intertwine to deliver a better understanding of our reality. Her experiences are told through political, survival, and personal episodes that combine in search of a place for recovery.  

The collection’s opening poem, “Life Is A Place Where It’s Forbidden To Live,” establishes Wang’s taste for the strange and existential. She says: 

“Who is the woman lurking in the woods? A fellow traveler. I’m not used to seeing others. She is lost and I am lost but the difference is she is a novice at being lost, whereas I have always been without country. Without planet.” 

This encounter is bizarre because of the setting and internal confession that takes place. Both individuals settle in the woods to deal with their loneliness and detachment. However, the other woman is at the beginning of this trauma, while the speaker has always been there and continues to process this experience. 

But Wang continues the poem by returning to the awake world and escaping the unconscious:

“The Asian market is a glass palace overlooking an airport. From outside the Palace of Snacks the products shine like organs inside a hard, translucent skin. As I take the palace escalator heavenward my eyes are fixed on an airplane parked on the runway. / It is waiting for me.” 

The “waiting” suggests that the speaker has been pursuing a pathway out of the nightmare. Though the Asian market is an illuminating environment, the shiny products are creatures that want to maintain her in a continuous painful cycle. 

In the poem “Refuge,” we again see a dream that stretches between the external and internal world. Wang writes: “the rain in her head, an elegy for the non-quiet dead.” This figurative language describes an entrance or portal to a troubling place near death that is brutal and wild. In addition to the lyricism, Wang juxtaposes rain with peonies: “Some peonies placed inside her body, supine beneath the canopy of forgotten dreams.” This type of flower is gratified inside the speaker’s body, which not only distorts her perception but provides a delicacy to the situation.  

Lastly, when the speaker wakes, she is confused and unaware of her surroundings: “It rained so hard she didn’t know where she was. / I don’t like being left to myself like this.” The rain in the real world reinforces the consequences of her state of confinement. The speaker does not want to be alone because inhabiting this dimension can channel abandonment to one’s own self. 

Throughout each dream phase, Wang shows a speaker in distress and eagerness for companionship. Because of the sunflower’s presence, she manages to cope and retain her sanity. While The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From The Void is a book dealing with isolation, readers will find solace in the book’s poems, even if they are reading them at those lonely movements that life unwittingly hands us.