Author: North of Oxford

A journal of book reviews, commentary, essays and poetry.

Palm Lines by Jonathan Koven

palm lines
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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Palm Lines by Johnathan Koven published by Toho Publishing LLC in Philadelphia is an interesting tome of forty-nine pages of poems that flow like stories in a guided stream.  The poems are complex in both imagery and interpretive meaning which makes the reader want to take a second or third read to discover how it all fits together.
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For example, the three-stanza poem on page thirteen Drowned in the Eye of the Equinox, uses the narrative of a beast suffering from rabies who is affected by nature in ways acknowledged by an insane thinker.  If the reader interprets the beast to be a season, it takes on a whole different set of possibilities.
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                            The moon opens.  My eyes rotate
                              to reproach my insides.
                              The pith’s fumes sing, Reduce me,
                              with their sour breaths.
                              A new month has come, another
                              empty emblem of resurrection.
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What is the narrator seeing?  It is night and this poem places the reader in the forest but it does not feel safe.  The image of the moon opening and the eyes rotating sets a tone of eerie doom.
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This is the first stanza of this macabre poem and it sets the time, tone. and place.  The second stanza is more specific on what the place looks like and also hints at the time of year.
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                              Pines and oaks starve thin;
                              horizon or blanket of cinder,
                              it does not matter anymore.
                             More shadow has spilled over
                             from dawn. Old rain covers
                             everything until tomorrow.
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The third stanza closes the poem with a suggestion of coming sorrow from planting the rabid seed in a child or the impression that the season and/or the child is the rabid seed.
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                          The season dies a rabid animal,
                          Hiccupping, seizing, Remember me.
                           I cannot be careful tonight,
                           my fire extinguished:
                           a crying child,
                           a seed.
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The poem is certainly open for interpretation.  Who or what is the narrator and is the seed implanted or is the child the seed and the seed of what, the season or the Equinox?  The imagery works well and is fresh. Endings and beginnings are skillfully mixed together. The tone of the poem is surprising calm for all that is happening on the night the moon opens.
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Another poem of similar complexity is Photograph of Visible Light on page thirty-six.
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                              A small family
                              sits in my heart, quiet
                              at a kitchen table
                              in darkness
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                             One bird
                             speaks outside the window
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                             They listen
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                             The lonely child lingers long
                              thinking
                             Does it hurt less
                             if I sleep?
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                            The question’s answer
                            holds no promise
                            of ever being known.
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The poem has created a visible scene inside the narrator’s heart and it is drenched in apprehension. The poem does not answer but suggests and Koven creates a complexity of interpretation that asks the reader to seek the promise of knowing.
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The book is divided into three parts following the lines of the palm:  Life Line, Heart Line, and Head Line.  The book also has impressionistic visuals in full color with dominant colors of blue and gray. I particularly like this book because the images and concepts are fresh and interesting. Koven has skillfully intermingled the common with the extraordinary and this volume is a pleasure to read.
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 Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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Zipolite by Lorraine Caputo

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Zipolite by Lorraine Caputo 
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I.
What is it with this place?
Why has it awakened my inner voice –
even before I arrived? …
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This Place of the Dead …
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Why do I feel quiet?
Why do I want
to quiet my Self
to the world of man around
to listen to the World of Mother?
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All I hear
is the thundering surf
All I see
is the ocean
churning white, ripping the beach
carrying sand towards the far horizon
churning, ripping around
the cragged heaps of rock ….
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My eyes
follow the butterflies among the triangular-box
spine-scalloped stems of cactus trees
My eyes
follow the cats among the drying scrub brush
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My eyes
follow the slow passing naval ship
on this side of the horizon
My eyes
follow the nude bathers wading into that
churning, ripping ocean
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I am hoping this Place of the Dead
won’t claim another
I am wondering why the hell
they enter those deadly waters
My mind answers:
TO FACE DEATH
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An iguana
appears on the stone wall below
then disappears over the edge
A buzzard
flies high from the cliffs above the sea
its wide black zopilote wings
cast a shadow below
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I wonder at
the force of these waves
the conflicting currents
ripping them apart, making them
slam into one another
I wonder at
my stillness in the face
in the place of death
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– Zipolite
Zopilote
Zipolite –
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II.
The sea here is
Xonaxi Queculla
the destroyer
the goddess of Death
I watch her wild dance of the waves
I hear her wild angry, thundering voice
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Mother
O, Mother Xonaxi Queculla
I shall respect your strength, your force here
I only ask
that you wash my feet, my ankles
with your warm, salty waters
Please, Mother Xonaxi Queculla
touch me gently, caress me
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– Zipolite
Zopilote
Zipolite –
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III.
Even at the Bay of Love
upon the ancient humped volcanic flows
the waves rise, leaping over the rocks
towards the heavens
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I wonder
how many forgotten lovers
have walked into these blue-green waters
foaming at the mouth of this bay
crushed upon the ragged rocks
tossed, pulled, ripped by the currents
flying towards the heavens
on the great white leaps of waves
salt spray falling, falling upon the crags
back into the sea
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I found
the sole of a woman’s once-spike-heeled shoe
washed up on the rocks, lying amongst
the bleached shatters of shells
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– Zipolite
Zopilote
… Zipolite …
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Wandering troubadour Lorraine Caputo is a documentary poet, translator and travel writer. Her works appear in 18 collections of poetry – including On Galápagos Shores (dancing girl press, 2019) and Escape to the Sea (Origami Poems Project, 2021). She also authors travel narratives, articles and guidebooks. Caputo has done literary readings from Alaska to the Patagonia. She journeys through Latin America with her faithful companion, Rocinante (that is, her knapsack), listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. Follow her travels at: www.facebook.com/lorrainecaputo.wanderer  or https://latinamericawanderer.wordpress.com
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Cantata by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

syca
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Cantata by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
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Drought robs the sycamores, plucking
leaves in June. A breeze pushes them
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into a swarm of withered pages
rasping anxiously across the court.
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Then stillness. They die back down.
Invisible forces carry us along.
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I am a prisoner of hope.
A congress of loneliness. A dry tear.
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An old motor sputters before purring.
Empty boxcars couple with a boom.
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Copying Ovid’s playbook, I hold out
for change. Home is made of wings.
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Thunder clears its throat but won’t sing.
The goal in life is joy. Today sun reigns.
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jeff
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright is a publisher, critic, eco-activist, and artist.He is best known as a poet and the author of 15 books of verse, including most recently Blue Lyre from Dos Madres Press. He has an MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College where he studied with Allen Ginsberg and also taught. Recent poetry is included in New American Writing, 2017. For many years, Wright ran Cover Magazine, The Underground National. Currently, Wright stages events showcasing artists and writers at KGB Lit Bar and La MaMa ETC in NYC, in conjunction with his art and poetry journal, Live Mag! He regularly contributes to American Book Review. Wright is a Kathy Acker Award recipient for 2018.
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The Influence of Art and War by Ian C. Smith

roundheads
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The Influence of Art and War by Ian C. Smith
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In my school’s foyer we marched in below Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier.  Thinking he was English, not Dutch, I liked the word Cavalier, and that he found life so amusing.  When I read about the Civil War I wanted the Cavaliers to win.  Who would want to be called a Roundhead?  These pragmatists obviously held no clue to stylish words’ effect, both terms meant as abuse.  I read about this earlier war soon after another war’s end, a war that prevented me from knowing my young uncles, which I resented.  A coke heap, out of bounds, abutted the school fence.  When our football landed on its heights, defied gravity, I risked the crunching charge uphill to retrieve it in that coal tar tang of icy air, imagining I were a gallant marine like my dead uncles.  If I bore an ensign I would have planted it triumphantly, uncaring of avalanche’s likelihood.  I fancied facial hair when I grew up, adding swash to my buckle.  Always skirmishing, a show-off, I smirked cavalierly at authority, costly battles, the hue and cry of years ahead camouflaged by time but for premonition like the tell-tale glinting of sunlight on a sword’s polished blade lying in wait.
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ian
Ian C Smith’s work has been published in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds, cordite, The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Southword, & The Stony Thursday Book.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.
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Today by Lou Gallo

buzzards
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Today by Lou Gallo
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I stand beside the Forester between
its door and interior as I wait for my daughters
to return from inside the pharmacy
where they will be administered their second doses
of vaccine.
We had broken out the old iPod and at this moment
Aerosmith’s “Walking in the Sand” blasts from the speakers.
What ever happened to that girl that I once knew . . .
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To my right across the street a chaos of buzzards
tears into the flesh of a dead groundhog
as church gongs from the steeple to my left,
the sinister path, resound,
rippling the very air and drowning out
all other sounds in the neighborhood. The buzzards
couldn’t care less and seem to be dancing
to a song I once uploaded onto my iPod
as they finish off the remains of the rodent
that has now practically disappeared
as if had never existed, as if had never lived.
Something both profane and holy
here at once—
A vulture Eucharist . . . take and eat.
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When we’re done we take a spin up Prospect
to gaze at the house where Cat and I once lived
before we married
                seems like the other day
before the girls were born, before now.
I thought it important to show the house to them
although I cannot explain why.
A bit of history here, a bit there,
the way things vanish and yet remain.
How we devour the entrails of the past.
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LJG (2)
Four volumes of Louis Gallo’s poetry, Archaeology, Scherzo Furiant, Crash and Clearing the Attic, are now available. Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? and Leeway & Advent will be published soon.  His work appears in Best Short Fiction 2020. A novella, “The Art Deco Lung,” will soon be published in Storylandia.  He is the recipient of an NEA grant for fiction.  He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.
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Covid 19 2020 – A Poetic Journal by Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

covid 19 2020

Moonstone Press has just released Diane Sahms-Guarnieri’s, Covid 19, 2020 – A Poetic Journal. 

The Chapbook is available here: https://moonstone-arts-center.square.site/product/sahms-guarnieri-diane-covid-19-2020-a-poetic-journal/294?cs=true&cst=custom 

What Others Say:

As sobering as Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, when the Bubonic Plague devasted London, Diane Sahms-Guarnieri’s, Covid-19, 2020 is a grim recounting of the horrible year through which we have just lived.

Starting with the ironically named “March Madness” section, a term that usually refers to the annual NCAA basketball tournament but so succinctly captures the mass disorientation, like “a sci-fi movie, yet real,” as she notes on 3-23-2020, the journal proceeds through April, the cruelest month, mixing death and rebirth in its stew of life, into the horrific summer of 2020 –

185,000 dead in the United States by Labor Day – and into fall/winter with the mounting dead, the glimmer of hope that a vaccine may soon be available. The collection ends on New Year’s Eve, over 350,000 Americans dead under the chaotic leadership of the Trump administration, the most of any nation in the world.  Along the way, as if the pandemic were not bad enough, Sahms-Guarnieri addresses the social turmoil that tore the country apart, the racial injustice that spawned BLM.

Sahms-Guarnieri captures the fear and loneliness so eloquently in the April poem, “Nature & Mothers Weeping,” which begins:
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Horrific scene played on TV—
a mother weeping & wailing
for daughter, dead. COVID-19.
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Last seen alive via FaceTime:
Mom, I can’t breathe.
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I, with thoughts of my only
living daughter, weep
for those whom I don’t know
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The July poem, “Untouchables, for daughter, Mary,” drives the point home :
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We who always embrace every time
we meet & whenever we leave each other,
came no nearer than 6 feet.
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An unmeasurably cruel calculation
for me & daughter, whose hazel irises,
as life protectors, gently glided into
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mine: touching, without touching,
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As Defoe wrote over three centuries ago, “everyone looked on himself and his family as in the utmost danger…London might well be said to be all in tears.”

Charles Rammelkamp, author of Ugler Lee and Mortal Coil 

You can get the chapbook here: https://moonstone-arts-center.square.site/product/sahms-guarnieri-diane-covid-19-2020-a-poetic-journal/294?cs=true&cst=custom

10 Most Read Poets – January to July 2021

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Howard Beach: Queens, NY by Doug Holder

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/howard-beach-queens-ny-by-doug-holder/

Leave Meeting by Bruce Whitacre

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/leave-meeting-by-bruce-e-whitacre/

Two Poems by Byron Beynon

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/13/two-poems-by-byron-beynon-2/

A Familiar Street, Unknown by Brian Rihlmann

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/05/13/a-familiar-street-unknown-by-brian-rihlmann/

Two Poems by John Dorroh

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/07/14/two-poems-by-john-dorroh/

Two Poems by Mark Tulin

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/13/two-poems-by-mark-tulin/

Two Poems by Linda Lerner

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/13/two-poems-by-linda-lerner/

Wild by Paul Ilechko

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/04/11/wild-by-paul-ilechko/

Two Poems by Catherine Zickgraf

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/05/13/two-poems-by-catherine-zickgraf/

Pages Come and Go by Carla Sarett

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/07/14/pages-come-and-go-by-carla-sarett/

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Blue Swan Black Swan – The Traki Diaries by Stephanie Dickinson

blue swan

By Lynette G. Esposito

Stephanie Dickinson has cleverly used the prose poem form to reflect diary entries of a tragic narrator.  Published by The Bitter Oleander Press of Fayetteville, New York, the sixty-six- page tome is strong on place, emotion and image.

The book has five sections which are characterized by places.  The five sections:  Salzburg. Vienna, Berlin, Galicia, and Grodek.  Dickinson adds time as well as place in the titles and a linear time line throughout until you reach the final sections of 1914.  She also uses a linear time technique in Salzburg, 1887 where she details personal items about George Traki, 1887-1914. that influences the poetry being presented.

On page fifteen, Dickinson begins her two- stanza prose poem with The Linden trees take on a wilt.  The tone is set. The second stanza begins, Morning drags on. Again, Dickinson combines poetic skill in linking place with time.  All through this first poem are details setting the scene presented as if these are diary entrees that are logical, emotional and personal.  This first poem captures the reader completely.

The tone changes in the second section called Vienna and the time is 1909.  The first poem in this section on page twenty-nine is The Wine-Hunt.  It is a one-stanza poem that begins: Vienna, 1909.  Two days asleep.  Dickinson’s narrator gives time and action as if it is a notation to the self. The narrator speaks of extreme drunkenness and a sky full of piss.  The poem reads like a self evaluation of one’s condition and in this poem, the self- evaluation is negative.  The narrator puts his fingers to his nose and smells the piss. Dickinson skillfully causes the reader to not only see the narrator’s condition but to relate to it through the senses.

In the third section, Berlin, the poem Snow on page forty-one begins 1912. Tavern night and the serving girl’s shoulders sag….  Again, Dickinson has placed the reader as both the observer and as participant in this one- stanza poem.  This sweet girl nudges the narrator out into the snow and the many cruel things that happen to a drunk in the cold.

All the poems in this book are prose poems of different lengths but written with great detail and sensitivity. The book is an interesting and complicated read but worth it.

You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781734653519/blue-swan-black-swan-the-trakl-diaries.aspx

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

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Shellback by Jeanne-Marie Osterman

shell
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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In the eponymous poem of this powerful collection, Jeanne-Marie Osterman, reflecting on the cruel, ghastly hazing her father received from his crewmates on their way home from the war in the Pacific in 1945 – an “initiation” administered to sailors crossing the equator for the first time – writes:
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This is one shellback’s daughter
trying to find that wiser self within
who can forgive these men,
for they’ve come from Okinawa
where they watched a buddy’s skull
blow out of his head,
teeth still gripping his last cigarette.
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This collection of poetry about her father’s long life and slow death (1919-2017) is steeped in blood and violence.  JDO, as he was known, experienced the most horrific things in the war, from an attack by a kamikaze pilot that killed a dozen men and maimed and injured many others to the grim day-to-day duties of the killing business, and he returns home to Washington state a damaged man. Not always the easiest person to live with, prone to spasms of violent behavior and cruelty, he ages into a tough old bird who resists acknowledging his pain and physical decline, in a way that’s both admirable and tragic. As Osterman writes in the poem, “Forgive,”
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I let memories I can’t erase
rest in peace,
knowing no one is only
their sins.
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The collection opens cleverly with the poem, “Epilogue”:
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He’s losing his grip.
Last Saturday night,
trying to shave for church,
my father cut his face so deep
it bled till 2 AM.
He couldn’t reach the Band-Aids
to stanch the blood.
He fell down trying.
He wouldn’t ring for help.
He didn’t make church.
He won’t wear his hearing aid,
so I shout the small talk –
think it’ll rain today?
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This introduces JDO perfectly. The rest of the collection shows us the man in his perpetual state of denial, suppressing his trauma, as he navigates fatherhood and old age, and indeed, our end always marks our beginning. The final poems deal with her father in the hospital, dying, pivoting from this “epilogue” that opens the book. Osterman is with him during his final days.
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Osterman really knows how to start a poem with a bang. For instance, “The String” begins:
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            I go to my father’s room to take him to dinner and find him
            face down on the floor. Thinking he’s dead, I say, Daddy?
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            I think I’m at the end of my string, he says, so I call 911.
            He wants me to pick him up, but he’s dead weight. 
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Right away, the reader is involved in the drama, compelled to read on. “Get the Body You Want” similarly begins: “Middle of the night, on your way to the bathroom, / you trip and fall on the wheelchair we insisted on / to keep you from falling.” A poem early in the collection, “Third Girl,” starts, “I was my father’s third girl. / Sundays I tried to be his boy.” Again, we are drawn into the drama. She is writing here about the great American pastime of watching NFL football on TV, but it highlights one of the heartbreaking themes of the collection, the child’s desire to be loved by her parent and the casual neglect he often shows. “On the Stillaguamish River,” a few poems later, poignantly addresses the same yearning. “I just wanted to take up your time, see how // you, once a sailor, would row, save me from drowning….”
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The poem, “Polaroid,” in which an emotional eight-year-old Osterman poses for a family photo, describes JDO, his jaw clenched, holding the camera and warning his daughter not to cry, “or I’ll give you something // to cry about. I was happy / at least he didn’t tell me to smile.”
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The poems that vividly address JDO’s wartime experience are truly jaw-dropping, drenched in blood and gore, from “End Like a Sponge,” “Wing and a Prayer” and “Theater of War” to “Fukuryu” and “Think of It,” which deals with the battle of Okinawa, in which 50,000 Americans and 100,000 Japanese died. What a horrific experience for a teenager to have to live through! On top of that, the hazing by his crewmates in “Shellback” reinforces the permanent psychological scarring.   And as she writes in a later poem, “Patterns,” “You might think that holding it in / kept it from us, but we / could feel it.”
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In the midst of the grimness, Osterman displays a sense of humor at times, while illuminating her father’s character. “Horny Goat Weed” is a poem about discovering a package of one of those (quack?) medications that you see in the snack kiosks at gasoline stations, meant to enhance a man’s libido, “a remedy for erectile dysfunction.” “My father’s ninety-six. My mother’s been dead for years,” she writes; another poignant example of JDO’s refusal to concede weakness.
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Just as this tender elegy starts with an “Epilogue,” it concludes with “The Living Always Leave You, but the Dead Stay with You Forever,” which is the true epilogue to this sequence. Her father has been dead six months, but reminders keep popping up.
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Perhaps the most touching poem in Shellback is a poem toward the end called “Yay.” Her father’s body is beyond salvageable; it’s only a matter of time. He is thirsty but he can’t drink. Droppers are not allowed, and water dripped from a spoon only rolls off his lip and soaks his hospital gown. JDO’s daughter soaks a piece of cloth and squeezes it slowly onto his lips.  The gratitude is heartfelt.
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            Yay, he whispers.
                          Yay.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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