Reviewed in the United States on July 14, 2021
I'll often pick up a book of poetry and read a few pages here and there, when I have time, just to cleanse the palate and help me through the day. In the case of this book, though, I was hooked right from the first poem in which a body is discovered in the woods, beginning with the lines:
What’s left of your tracks
is lit by lilies, orange and wild,
as if to say why
you chose this path
Right away, we're given a wealth of imagery, not to mention the tension created by that last line. The poem ends with a touch of ambiguity, which is sure to propel you into the rest of the book--as it did for me. This book is bursting with knockout opening lines like "Better a small, wild death" (from "Recovery"), "When you chose to die, you chose / duration, a pocket of memory" (from "Sublime Icarus"), "It is natural for the robin / to slam into glass" (from "Reflection"), "Trouble is, your wings fit you / like a cage fits a bird" (from "Mythology"), "What if I told you, daughter, you scream like an animal" (from "Did Anyone think to Ask the Horse?"), and so many more that I could fill the review just with those!
Probably my favorite poem in the collection is "Chickadee," a fairly straightforward but emotionally complex portrait of the author considering how they'll bury a dead bird: "I will probably not look long at the small / body, beautiful still. The tail feathers / will make an easy handle / for hitching into the woods." I love the juxtapositions here--life and death, sure, but also beauty and tragedy, adoration and practicality, etc.
"The Torturer's Horse" is another favorite, as is the chilling social commentary of "Winter Wheat" ("We both know / men who rape girls / live there" and later, "You can't make her out / among the hemlock"), and I doubt I'll ever forget this simple but stunning line from "Rigor": "When they handed me a box of you, / it was smaller than I had imagined."
And if it's dark humor you're looking for, there's plenty of that, too. Consider "Conversation with Two-Time Mid-American Conference Relief Pitcher Douglas Dean Stackhouse on Winning, Losing, and Learning to Fiddle," which had me at the title, or "Everything Depends Upon" (one of those poems where the title doubles as the first line):
sex and how we position ourselves,
the elbow developing a wing,
the reciprocating knee,
the bird at the window proving
all ledges are not for jumping
This is precisely the kind of poetry I love: uncompromising but accessible, brimming with imagery and sardonic wit, utilizing taut, highly polished lyricism to paint portraits of fearless children, glaring neighbors, natural beauty, stunning loss, suicide, and of course, the undercurrent of love and heartache that sustains us all.