Wednesday, May 9, 2012

House Where a Woman

I want to talk about a book of poems, House Where a Woman, by Lori Wilson. By way of full disclosure, I should say that Lori is my sister, of whom I am quite fond, and so I promise to be completely biased in my comments.

I have no qualifications regarding poetry, or how to read and analyze it, or what makes a Good Poem and what does not. Still, I enjoy reading poetry, and I believe I can recognize Bad Poetry (and Lori’s poems do not fall into that category).

I know what kind of poems I like. I like poems that tell stories – even if the story is a brief one, mere moments long. I like poems that use simple lines and phrases to convey larger stories and meaning.

I decided to read through Lori’s book again, and put a sticky note on every poem that I really liked, and then write about why those poems appealed to me.  That plan proved to be a bit problematic, since I now have a forest of green sticky notes growing out of the book.  In the end, I've chosen just a few poems to mention; otherwise, this would end up being a horribly long post. (If you find you like the excerpts, you can get a copy of the book from Autumn House Press or from Amazon Books.)

In spite of my ruthless tossing of poems onto the cutting room floor, the post is still pretty long. I've shared excerpts from several poems, and a couple complete poems, along with the briefest mention of my impressions.

* * *

In This Night’s Cave, a mother struggles with her inability (I won’t say failure) to protect her son. Ultimately, children grow up and make their own choices – but that does little to assuage a mother’s grief.
I couldn’t keep him safe,
the little boy, his face buried
in the black dog’s fur,
& I’m his mother so don’t tell me
I did my best, don’t excuse me.
Please. What I know
can obliterate hope
with a sweep of one weak arm.
* * *

Slap shares a young mother’s remorse.
It wasn’t / I shouldn’t have / I’ll never (I never
did it again.) No comfort
to say I was young, I was learning –
no one told me
that some days I’d want to upend the table,
hurl dishes, crawl under the couch.
* * *

Hope surfaces again in Eight Springs Since – the hope exhibited by all who plant in the fall, and look for flowers in the spring.
That first November on the untamed ridge
I buried my longing for spring
with handfuls of bone meal
in a stone-circled plot of dirt well dug.

. . .

Each spring since, the late March sun
finds easy passage through poplars and maples
and charms the daffodils from thawing ground.
I love that image of the sun coaxing the daffodils from the ground, just as Indian snake charmers coaxed cobras from their baskets.

* * *

In the poem January, Wilson Avenue, Lori introduces the topic of the cold weather with two simple lines describing cause and effect:
Yesterday the gas bill came.
Last night I put up storm windows.
* * *

With wry humor, the poem Dear Paul contrasts the different lives and personalities of two siblings. Paul’s letter describes remodeling a bathroom, preparing dinner, singing in a talent show; the poet’s reply recounts simply:
Last week
our dog found a hole in the fence.
She was gone for a night but she came home again
smelling of garlic and fish.
* * *

We find signs and memories of love in the objects around us, as Lori describes in Green Glass Bird. I love the memory, the story, and the wonderful images in this poem.
From a box marked Lillian’s Desk
I lift the green glass bird
I bought when I was seven,
the Christmas I was old enough
to buy her present myself
with two dollars my father
pressed into my hand.

I hold it up to the basement bulb,
remember how she kept it
on the coffee table all those years,
glass-to-glass, remember her hands
cradling its weight, remember
the bristle of rug on my arms,
my cheek, as I watched her wait
for late-afternoon sun to ignite
the green heart of that bird.

North Carolina, West Virginia,
Michigan– green glass bird
in and out of packing boxes,
onto the sill, the curio shelf, at
last her desk the winter and spring
of oxygen tanks and feeding tubes,
where it caught the inadequate light
until there were no more breaths.

In the basement with boxes
I rock on my heels,
cold bird cuddled to my neck
like a frightened cat. And I stroke it,
murmur Stupid bird, poor fat green bird,
a careless move could crack you
on this painted concrete floor.
Did you think it was you that she loved?
Poor bird, it was me.
It was me.
* * *

The poem Stripping Paint from the Trim of an Upstairs Window also speaks of memories, and relationships, and objects that link them together. It asks the question: when a relationship ends, how do you strip the bad memories from objects, and preserve only the good?

I like the humor in this small segment:
I’m wearing your red flannel shirt
Which no longer smells of you

nor did I think of you
when I pulled it from the hanger

though when I threaded my hand
through the hole in the elbow,

I thought I heard your laugh.
* * *

We sometimes feel that we live in our cars – no wonder they hold memories for us! The Bearing Falls Out of the Pump is not just a poem about a car, but about a life that went on, after the marriage didn’t:
But I’m thinking about the day
I bought the car, paid for it
with my money: twenty-five
hundred dollars cash—
first thing I bought without my ex.

. . .
It was blue with a dent in the door.
When it rained, the rear windows
fogged so you couldn’t see.
The battery died at the high school.
The serpentine belt broke in Michigan.
The rear-view mirror
snapped off on Cheat Mountain.

I drove it to my mother’s funeral,
to Chicago for the family reunion.
I drove it fifty thousand miles
hauling kids and dogs,
lumber and trash, hockey bags, bikes,
the remnants of duct tape decals
still stuck to back windows:
Go Lady Blades
* * *

My Father Made a Cabinet shares a sweet, intimate moment between a young girl and her father, as she pretends to be asleep while he carries her to bed.
His white shirt was untucked,
top button undone,
the knot of his tie pulled loose.
I can’t remember his smell.
His beard must have scratched my skin.
I took what I couldn’t have taken awake.
I reached for his neck and held on.
* * *

In the poem Lillian, 1999, a few lines conjure up a summer day.
My mother made the music in our house.
Summer afternoons, my braids
still damp from swimming,

I’d lie drowsy on the rug
while she played her grand piano
and the dog sprawled on the hardwood floor.
* * *

In 1990, We Moved to the Woods is a poem that I find particularly moving. It is also a poem that makes me angry.
I said yes when I wanted to say no.
When I couldn’t say yes anymore, I said nothing.

We lived in the woods and nowhere
 in my life was there quiet,

except for the silence I carried, silence
pressing back all those years
When I read this poem, I want all women to read it, and to acknowledge that "no" is a perfectly valid response. Women should not have to hide their feelings in silence, while they “scramble for something clever to say.”

* * *

I particularly like these lines, from House Where a Woman. They reflect my own feelings, as I try to find what it takes to keep moving forward, when it would be easier to just withdraw.
Where is the well for drawing
bucket after bucket of what it takes to sit up in bed –
no, just to pull the blankets from my face?
* * *

Lanterns from Mandarin Orange Crates is one of my favorite poems in this collection – actually, it is one my favorite poems, period. In just a few lines, it captures a family coming together for an evening of tradition and magic.
It should be at his house this year,
but her car won’t start
so he drives down the mountain.
He says on the ridge there is ice,
four inches of snow on top of that.
It’s something they do for the kids,
this coming together on Christmas Eve.
Around the table they pull staples,
slice balsa boards. The kids
drill holes for light, break skewers,
build crazy lanterns with wire and glue,
tissue paper, waxed paper wrapped,
vanilla-scented candles tucked inside.
They fill the kitchen sink just in case.
Only one catches fire, and they toss it
into the water in time, light the candle again.
He leads the kids outside in the night
and they knock at the back door
singing, lanterns swinging, pale
paper panes glowing red, yellow, red.
For a moment, while the candlelight
holds in the wind and the rain, she believes
that a moth might lay its gauze wings
against a hot lamp and not fall,
that she could be surprised, just once.
* * *

There are other wonderful poems in this book. The Wedding Present offers raw pain and disappointment. In Just Past Coshocton, a mother muses while her daughter sleeps. Taking Apart Praetorius describes the happy chaos in a home. So Shall Thy Barns Be Filled with Plenty is a wonderfully lyrical song of praise for onions.

Really, the book is full of riches.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. I will re-read this collection. Tonight.

    Lori's ability to translate emotion into action into emotion again with few words and raw images is astounding to me.