deerbrook editions

Torohill by Donna Reis

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By Karen Corinne Herceg
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Death and disappointment can be called life’s great equalizers. No amount of money, privilege, or cryogenics has yet found a way to exempt any of us. Grief spares no one, even in our best attempts at denial. It has arguably the most profound impact on our journey through life in everything from the smallest disappointment to larger tragedies and into death. No matter your perspective on life or religious beliefs, there is a universal depth of feeling that cannot be denied when we are faced with the hard truth of loss. The question remains: what do we do with it?
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Donna Reis knows a lot about loss. She’s known it since childhood. She’s known it when a horrific car accident at the age of seventeen left her disabled and struggling for years to recover the semblance of a normal life. She’s known it through failed relationships, an abusive marriage, and finally in the loss of a long-awaited life partner, a husband who passed from cancer several years ago, taken all too soon. But she’s spun gold from the threads of despair, just as she works so adeptly and laboriously over her needlepoint, and certainly as she’s done in her poetry, weaving her thoughts into the fabric of our consciousness.
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In her new book of poems, Torohill, Reis revisits her past in a very human way that is intensely reflective, sometimes brutally stark, and often quite humorous. If comedy is just the other face of tragedy, then our catharsis lies within the synthesis of both. Reis knows this instinctively and expertly weaves both through her poems. It renders them remarkably touching but not in a saccharin or intentional manner. She allows feelings to vacillate and often startle and surprise us organically and authentically. A life of such challenges and loss might create a poetic style that holds the emotions apart, examining them from the safety of distance, the perspective of an observer. But Reis participates and dives into the feelings and what she uncovers is a landscape of multi-faceted responses to death and tragedy: irony, humor, the savory sweetness of memories, all weaving our stories toward what is inevitable but with comfort in the real, in the truth, and the shared connectedness of our journeys. No matter their diversity and deviations, there is a similitude and combined solace in our unavoidable finales. We join hands in communion with the unavoidable destiny of finality. Reis’ poems convey integral parts of our emotional journey through life’s predicaments, and an honest response to navigating the precarious nature of it all. She recognizes that our best defense is always the creative impulse that outlives physical limitations and memorializes our spirit’s eternal imprint.
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Torohill is the name of the ancestral home of Reis’ late husband, Tom. Ironically, the hit and run car accident that took such a physical and mental toll on Reis occurred on the road at the bottom of that same property when she was just seventeen and still in high school. She wouldn’t meet Tom until several decades later, and it would challenge her psychologically to return to the scene of such a horrific memory, but it would be under much happier and life sustaining circumstances. There is an almost magical, fairy tale quality to the story, except she will sit alone in the house after Tom’s passing and eventually leave it.
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The opening poem, “Shoes,” reflects upon the many shoes found on the ocean floor from the sinking of the Titanic, that grand ship to be the greatest to ever sail, yet had only one disastrous, aborted voyage. Like items on view in Holocaust camps and museums, they represent at once many individual lives resting together that touch us with both their specificity and collective humanity. Reis concludes how they’ve never really left: “row after row, so still/still there.” If we were here, we were never gone, living inside one another in experiences, in memories, in life, and even in death. In “Answering Machine” the theme returns of items that remain after someone has passed, even the voice of Reis’ husband in the recorded phone message:
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Sometimes I’m jealous
you went first, as I tie
your loose ends,
dust your collections
and preserve your voice
for anyone who calls.
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In “Mexican Standoff” we learn Reis and her father, a pastor, were abandoned by her mother. Her father follows her mother to Mexico but is unsuccessful in bringing her back. Instead, he returns with a dress her mother sent, a poor replacement. Reis feels she will betray her father by wearing it but decides to wear it for her graduation from high school. Elaborately embroidered with flowers, ribbons, and two love birds, she is driven to the ceremony in an ambulance and a wheelchair as she continues to recover from the accident. The dress is slipped over her “sutured belly/fractured pelvis and casted legs, like Disney birds/dressing Cinderella” in an amazing contrast between a celebration and an incredibly challenging day. She concludes the image: “Two plaster feet peered/from the dress’s hem like white doves/legs elevated like wings.” The recurrent theme of Reis rising to meet adversity is evident in her choice of words such as “elevated” and “wings,” a persistent will to survive.
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The absence of maternal love and support are starkly evident in “How Do You Like Them Apples,” with a mother who spews platitudes that are meant to hurt, where “Compliments were doled out/when Hell froze over.” In “My Father Invents An Alternate Life” she imagines what he would have hoped for in a wife, a supportive one with “pies cooling in the larder,” who would “embroider cushioned kneelers/with Ecclesiastical petit point, a labor/of the finest love I could imagine.” That mother and wife did not exist, but Reis knows this and explores it. She often returns to the theme of needlepoint and stitching, metaphorically speaking to our desire to bind together, to hold together, despite what tears us apart. She visits this again in “Festival of Broken Needles” after the passing of her beloved husband. She stitches to piece together what is lost, to “sew them back together/as if they never parted.” She meets grief head on but is not immune to the lure and comfort of magical thinking. She balances this against the realization of hard facts. In “God’s Shepherd,” about her dying father, he sees that “he was already one/of many sheep crossing the plank/to a ship about to sail,” as she returns to face stark realities.
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In “Please Forward” Reis thinks back on her “last summer of innocence” before her body is marred by the accident and life changed forever both personally and in the wake of political and societal shifts dispelling the carefree illusions of youth. Her humor shines through in “Learning to Sail,” in which she misunderstands a word in class that changes her perception and leads to a litany of misperceptions we can all relate to, then delivers a punch in a final line: “And once I said hate when I meant love.” Reis will experience a host of misjudged and misguided relationships in her search for love and connection and never shies from naming names and places that bring a very personal yet universal imperative to her poems. She dreams of boyfriends and romanticizes “walking the moors, like Plath and Hughes” or meeting “in our secret/garden among ghostly irises” but also admits to the dark side of our dueling thoughts. In “Amber Bottles” she longs to be out and walking while recovering with “leg elevated for three years,” and later laments wanting that time back to read and rest, finally deciding her muse is drawn to “amber bottles, and a stranger/in the corner with a crooked smile.” Reis is always searching for that special connection but also recognizes the contradictions we face within ourselves, the wounds we carry that can easily distort the outcomes. “Botched Job” describes a dysfunctional marriage, a husband who tries to commit suicide, and her recognition that the relationship is over and “we were one breath from death.” Reis fights to live despite the tragedies and challenges. The dark side calls to her often in her thoughts or through others, but her refrain is “Not yet, not yet” as in these last lines from “The Reverend’s Irreverent Daughter.” The title of this poem aptly describes Reis, her rebellious spirit, her unwillingness to relent to misfortune, her desire to embrace life and hope. In her homage to poet John Berryman, she relates to his despair and early death, but that resignation does not live in Reis. She notes that had he lived and wrote longer, at this point in time he would have been dead anyway. We will all die, and here Reis tells us that hastening that moment is wrong and speaks to Berryman stating, “Your throat still had songs stirring/down deep.” Her life force is too strong and is not about giving up or giving in. In “Purgatory” she describes everyone’s present moment as one of loss through fear and imaginary thinking that remind us we live more by diminishment than expansion: “Most believe if they step off the ledge,/they’ll plummet to Hell.”
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Reis returns to the scene of her horrific accident when she marries Tom who lives in his ancestral home, Torohill. Ironically it is at the bottom of Torohill where the accident occurred thirty-one years prior. Despite her fears, she faces them and comes full circle in this new home and, finally, with a true love, sharing in the inheritance of the house’s history. Her “Letter to Jane Kenyon” parallels Kenyon’s joining poet Donald Hall at his home and making it her own as well. An assimilation takes place based on a shared love that overcomes apprehension of moving into someone else’s settled landscape. When Reis states, “Yet as I ascend, passing the old scene/I resurrected from to marry and live above,” she decides to move forward, to “realize I’ve come home.” The faith in her decision is evident in her choice of words such as “ascend,” “resurrected,” and “above.” These are words of triumph over tragedy, of life over death. “Grey Rock, Squirrel Island” presents us with another perspective on the meaning of houses and home. Reis and her husband pay a visit to his cousin’s home rife with antiques and nostalgic memorabilia, and Reis takes a bath sinking “into a claw-foot tub with a glass of wine to drink in the sunset.” Shortly they receive a visit from the caretaker who advises them they are in the wrong house. It’s a humorous moment, but the underlying message is that the people make the home.
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 “The Last Night” is a heart wrenching goodbye as Reis lies with her husband, curled into him with her back against him. She wants to turn but can’t. She concludes with “When I awoke/he was gone.” This short piece perfectly captures the conflict of denial and acceptance. In “Miracle Whip & Woolite” she writes of going to the lawyer’s office for probate. Little nuances and remembrances constantly trigger grief because they’re so personal and specific. She realizes she will have to ask someone else’s help to open a bottle of Woolite “because you won’t be here to help me.” Finality sets in with “You will never, ever be here again.” Later in “Orientation,” Tom appears to her two days after his death. Their “eyes locked and we/were too far away to speak.” There’s a sad triumph in this moment, of connection beyond time, but still “too far away.”
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The poems of loss morph back and forth as memories stir pleadings to “Come home, Baby. I have a place/set just for you.” In “You’ve Left” there is more resignation as she visits the grave and says, “I’m certain/you’ve left, seeing only parched/grass and a marker.” But in “Great Horned Owls,” which concludes the collection, she elevates his status in her life and memories and states, “You always knew/death would swoop in on grey wings/and carry you to the highest tree.” In this collection, Reis rises to that place in “the highest tree” both in creativity and in spirit. At the beginning of Torohill Reis quotes Rilke. It sums up all we have and all we must do:
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Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
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Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
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Give me your hand.
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In these poems Reis extends her hand, and we won’t be disappointed if we take it.
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Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, essays, and reviews. Her second book of poetry, Out From Calaboose, was released in 2017. A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with notable poets Philip Schultz, John Ashbery and William Packard. She lives in France. Her website is http://www.karencorinneherceg.com
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Indebted to Wind by L.R. Berger

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By John Zheng

What flows through L.R. Berger’s Indebted to Wind is the sensibility presented in each poem. It is a physical and emotional response to what the poet sees, experiences, and feels, a visual chord struck in her senses. This sensibility urges Berger to express through images and evokes the reader to experience or revisualize what she gains through her conscious looking.

The title poem, “Indebted to Wind,” brings what the wind carries: the “dandelion silk dispatching seed” and the “neighbor’s trashcan lid… / hurled in a tempest / against the bedroom window.” The definitions that wind offers are “howling, love cry, / lamentation,” inviting associative thinking about the human characteristics of wind. This sensibility juxtaposes nature with human nature with such a visual effect in this stanza:

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When love unbuttoned your blouse
wind did the rest
fumbling through the aspens
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Here, the wind functions like a gentle lover. If it evokes a memorable scene in the past, it also blows to the future and “tutors your own breath / to extinguish the flame” of an unhappy relationship or an unrequited love.

Wind has been a favorite image for poets. My favorite poems are Emily Dickinson’s “The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man” and James Stephens’ “The Wind.” Both poets personify the wind to show weariness and temper. In Berger’s poem, wind, as an element of nature, acts kinetically. It dispatches, wakes, hurls, howls, cries, tutors, extinguishes, fumbles, stings, whips, and lifts, activating the human experiences or encounters with nature. Therefore, what Berger presents through the image of wind is the visual sensibility to nature and human nature.

“Wind Breaks into the House” is another wind poem. It is a lyric that describes the mess caused by the wind: papers driven off the desk, paragraphs plastered against walls, and stanzas blown into corners of chaos. But the poet catches the moment to experience the wind by unzipping her sweatshirt to let it sweep through her body with whatever it picks from the fields it passes. This unzipping is then a way to open the mind to nature, to be with nature, and to be a part of nature.

“38th and Chicago” is a poem using the image of the personified wind. It is a tribute to the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The title mentions the two street names, at the intersection of which the murder occurred. The poet re-envisions the murder with the focus on the knee that kills Floyd. The humanized wind which embodies the killed begs the police not to clench tight, but the officer refuses to give an opening for the wind to wedge. The poet smartly sets up the contrast of the sympathetic wind against the brutal knee. While the wind becomes humanized, the officer becomes dehumanized by clenching tight. Wind, as the poet says in another poem, “Ask Anybody,” is “God’s great source / of subsequently / visible gestures.” Yet, the personified wind in “38th and Chicago” is killed by the knee on its neck, revealing a conflict between nature and human nature.

While poems about wind are apparent in Berger’s collection, other poems about sensibility are also worth reading. “Palliative Care” is one that describes human nature in a difficult situation. It uses the apostrophe to address Hal to express a feeling and an experience both sweet and bitter. It is divided into eight numbered sections, each focusing on a part of the patient’s physical, emotional, or spiritual state, as seen in section 1:

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And God could sometimes be found
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in your final watercolor
propped up and facing us
on the sill of the hospital window—
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its suggestion of wintered trees
fracturing banks of blue
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while under a tent of white sheet
you faded like fugitive colors.

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The speaker consciously seeks a way of showing concerns and a way of optimizing the quality of life through palliative care. In a sense, this poem deals with the difficult time of death and the sensibility to the true meaning of existence.

The second section focuses on the spiritual state of the patient who, though lying on the sickbed like fugitive colors of Hal’s final watercolor, smiles with the shining eyes which “were steady blue flares up ahead / on the gravel of night’s back road.” His smile is contagious and has the power to change everybody’s mood. His good spirit or optimism makes him strong in dealing

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Wearing the face of the jilted
you woke each morning
to find death stood you up.
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In the next section, the speaker imagines the daily changes in the health condition of the patient imagined as a wooden broom, a sleeping prince, and one “fallen nestling, featherless, / still breathing splayed” or one with “a living face / of Christ crucified.” Here, wind appears as an image of death, trying to take him away by “circling the hospital / with something like intention, whirlpool of winter…” Section 5 presents the thought of the speaker, her exhaustion from caring for the sick, and her dream “about birds [they] don’t have.” But whatever comes next is inevitable and must be faced. The last two stanzas of section 5 are repeated in the last section.

A reader may notice that blue is the color in section 6. With its function to string all sections, blue adds a touch of sadness when the blue sky is fractured by winter trees in section 1, shines in the patient’s eyes in section 2, and offers a blurry sheen like chicory weed and forget-me-not. To both characters, each is a forget-me-not in each other’s eyes, as their life is a companionship of blue, shining, blooming, tolling till their last conversation.

Section 7 is like the speaker’s confession in a bitter and difficult tone:

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Once you stopped breathing so long
I crossed the room
whispering finale, meaning finally.
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Then you gasped like a newborn
gulping his first fist of air.

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It is ironic that while death is an inevitable finale of life, the dying person’s desire to live is still as strong as a newborn’s. The palliative care lasts for forty days and nights. During this time, “sometimes the heft of a word’s / true meaning comes to find us.” Yet, when death finally comes, the meaning of the word is just a moment of now, a finale whispered, or metaphorically, the dappled light of the virgin forest finally leaves. Sadness stays and departs at the same time as the light of blue finally fades. “Palliative Care” deserves careful reading, yet one question that haunts this reviewer is why a couple of stanzas reappear in different sections. I guess the poet must have a reason for that.

In brief, Berger’s poems are indebted to nature and reveal human sensibility, something that seems to have gradually faded in today’s human society.

You can find the book here: https://www.deerbrookeditions.com/indebted-to-wind/

John (Jianqing) Zheng’s publications include A Way of Looking, Conversations with Dana Gioia, and African American Haiku: Cultural Visions. He is the editor of the Journal of Ethnic American Literature. His forthcoming poetry collection is titled The Dog Years of Reeducation from Madville Publishing.

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Sufficient Emptiness by Marjorie Power

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Reading Marjorie Power’s Sufficient Emptiness is like hearing a loud whisper throughout her ninety- four pages of poetry.  The poems appear to begin softly suggesting meaning then crescendo until she is right in your ear telling you this is the way it is.
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Sufficient Emptiness, published by Deerbrook Editions of Cumberland, ME, is divided into five sections: Season Tickets, The New Chickens, The Eyes: An Elephant Sequence, Sufficient Emptiness, and Walk Signal. Her poems vary in length and form but the whisper is always there saying pay attention, I am going to tell you something important.
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For example, the poem, To Larry, on page nineteen is only five lines but the reader is treated to the intimacy of a treasured relationship.
                      we two
                      wander, white-haired,
                      a heartbeat between us,
                      its pulsing silence our teenaged
                      brother
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The image is clear of two who seem as one.  The form supports the image with its lack of punctuation or any capital letters.  It appears as a quick love note with the complexity of growing old but hovering near them is the passion of youth,
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Another poem, that whispers loudly at the end is Dust Motes on page seventy-four.
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     We guess at what the moon might hide
     even when she stares roundly
     past a small cloud, a scraggly branch,
     a street disturbance where she wants to cast her glow.
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She skillfully has the reader looking both up and down at the same time while suggesting something is hidden and the moon is doing the hiding even when she is shedding light. The seventeen-line poem is written in couplets and three-line stanzas. This gives a successful uneven pacing to the poem and strong end -line breaks, the interior of the poem holds the stanzas and the poem both begins with couplets and ends with a couplet.
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The poem explores how different it is when the sun comes out.
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     Under the sun we speak
     confidently to those in the room
     and any others who dangle elsewhere,
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She suggests subtly the secretive moon by the open actions and free speech during day time. She ends the poem with a couplet reminding the reader how we forget certain things and what happens.
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     We forget to keep our eye on dust motes
     that sift out of our talk, into our meaning.  We let drift
      all we can, as if there’s a clear space beyond us
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      and they’ve already settled there
      and been vacuumed up.
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Depending on how you define dust mote, opens the poem to more than one interpretation.
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Power is able to write poems of length as seen in Dust Motes as well as compact small poems.  The poem, White, Falling Rapidly in Clumps, is only five lines but again seems like a loud whisper.
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      Snow slips
      from a bare branch—
      red-tipped, ready to bud.
      No time left to process winter’s
      hushed thefts.
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When the poem opens, the reader is focused on winter.  When the poem ends, the reader is focused on spring, Power is a skillful controlled writer who leads the reader to water and makes him drink.
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Sufficient Emptiness has many themes, images, and poetic forms. The poetry is a pleasure to read and to think about later.
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You can find the book here: Sufficient Emptiness
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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.

Harvest Time by Martin Willits Jr.

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By g emil reutter
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Willitts brings us onto the farm in this collection offering insight into the Amish/Mennonite life style in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  He uses poetic imaging to reveal the harshness of field work, chopping wood, milking nameless cows. He writes of his quiet Grandfather and Grandmother. The title poem opens the collection that meanders through the seasons and as he accomplishes this he also meshes the farm with the lives of his grandparents who work the farm hard and in the end pass to the other side as the bank seize their assets. Willits worked the farm every spring into summer from the ages of 5-17. He tells us in this poem, I carry baskets of tomorrow/heavy as death. Willitts reveals the violence of nature in survival and the violence of man interacting with nature using domesticated animals until they have no use and then disposing of them. Not all is dark here as Willitts reveals the beauty of life in barns, fields, even Amish lovers.  In the poem, It’s All a Matter of Perspective, he himself watches as his girlfriend, ..ran away with the broom salesman.  He further tells us:
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At seven, I never understood why Grandmother giggled
when Grandfather looked at her a certain way.
I believed it was because he puckered his lips
like he tasted lemon. Later, I found out what it meant.
My girlfriend made the same giggle when she ran off.
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The poet tells the reader of Quiet:
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When the world goes silent
after the crackle of birds landing on trees,
air seems to glow—
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that moment of sadness
when nothing else happens,
time crawls into a small whimper,
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a bantam rooster’s spurs
barely tic, tic, tic
on a grey, crushed-stone path.
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Some people just need to disturb that silence.
Others want to escape the disturbance
like those birds swarming onto trees.
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I just want that moment of solitude
emitting from apple blossom odors
in noiseless breeze.
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Quiet is a beautiful poem with a freshness of images, time crawls into a small whimper…that moment of solitude/emitting from apple blossom odors/in noiseless breeze.
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In the poem, Milking the Moment, the poet tells us:
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Love takes the same slowness—
a body responds to evenness of hands,
anticipating the next light touch
until it feels fingers before they land,
gentle as dust. And if you lay your head
against a belly, cooing a soothing melody
the other person eases
into what will happen next.
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This from an experience of milking a cow, a life lesson in handling other humans.
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Willitts writes extensively of learning from his Grandfather in silence, no words, just nods and smiles as he learns the farm. He captures the beauty of this lesson in the poem, Silence Has Its Own Language:
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There are days when I am still ten, following Grandfather
out the back door into the prayer of stars.
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There are several ways to know silence—fishing forever
without a bite, your heart moving with a spring steam defrosting;
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or mucking the barn, rake scratching wooden floors and straw;
or cat swishing its tail before striking: or goldenrod opening.
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Grandfather barley spoke all summer. No need to talk. Words
Were wasted, when silent commands and nods worked well.
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You can hear more if you listen intently— deer moving at dawn,
Inventing silence; or the stillness of heart and hush of breath.
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More important, all of earth and stars and silence speak.
You can hear, like a dog ear’s perking, everything unsaid.
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Harvest Time is an excellent read. Be sure to read intently as gentle metaphor and imagery blends with the harshness of farm life as Willitts captures rural Amish America.
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You can find the book here: Harvest Time
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems, stories and an occasional literary review. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/
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Poisons & Antidotes by Andrea L. Fry

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” go the lyrics of a hit song by Kelly Clarkson, the same paradox at the heart of Andrea L. Fry’s impressive collection in which she explores the clash of the nutric and the toxic,  the safe and the perilous: the noxious and the obnoxious, as the title of the book’s first section sums up.
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“Oh, I would divide the world into binaries,” she begins the poem called “The Glitter of the Simple,” but the dichotomy is never so clear, as she captures so beautifully later in the poem:
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The sacred passion flower,
ringed by purple filaments,
though its cool smile nests in leaves
of cyanide.
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Later in the poem, after having archly declared her intention to judge by appearances only, Fry more sagely notes the deceptive malleability of the world’s contents in an observation from which the collection takes its name:
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Both substance and creature slink
over a delicate border,
can so easily pass
from poison to antidote.
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Some of Fry’s poems are so deliciously specific in spelling out the world’s almost oxymoronic inconsistencies. “Jimsonweed” and “Mothballs,” which open the book, focus on these two modest objects to tease out the point. “The Flower Maker” tells the story of the accidental poisoning of a person who makes beautiful bouquets for ladies’ hair using a chemical like Scheele’s Green, a mixture containing arsenic. “She shaped the flowers, / and pinned them, // loved them like / little green children.”  Unfortunately, the flower maker got the poison all over herself, too, her hair and lashes, and eventually into her stomach and liver.
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“The Snake Charmer” is another poem that plays on the ambiguity of the safe and the dangerous. Inspired by a magazine article about an Indian snake charmer who “attempted suicide by cobra” (“your nemesis / and livelihood coiled in a basket”), she describes the man considered an “entertainer” by some and a “beggar” by others:
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Yours was like a prophet’s
mission, to travel to villages
and festivals – like a marshal
out in front, townspeople cowering
behind – to challenge peril,
dare it to come out from its
hiding, show itself.
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An oncology nurse practitioner at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Fry knows what she’s talking about when she evaluates the risks and benefits of different drugs and therapies. “Tomfoolery” brings a smile with its curmudgeonly expression, but she speaks truth:
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Harrumph, I say!
Your cure’s as toxic as the bug itself.
A panacea that kills the lymph.
Amphotericin destroys both fungus and the host;
camphor kills moths, gives us emphysema.
Amphetamines make depressives
leap the fence….
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“Narcan,” a poem about the emergency drug used to treat opioid overdose, expresses a similar ambivalence; the “miracle” comes with a warning, “the burden / of pure gift.” “Therapy” continues the idea of the fragility of the body in response to drugs, “fondling kidneys / like pottery.”  And so we encounter “Amir” “holding / the sample of urine with a slight tremor, as if asking for alms,” as uncertain and terrified as any other anonymous patient.
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This mixture of promise and peril is particularly potent in “Return,” a poem dedicated to “the Babushkas of Chernobyl,” the old women coming back to tend to the radioactive land, “to your home, / to what they said would be uninhabitable.” The birds, the bees, even, for a time, the wolves, moose and boars were gone. “But you would not grieve.  / There was work to be done.”
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My favorite poem is the one called “The Renderer,” in which a farm mother cushions the death of a beloved ancient horse with a vision of Patsy grazing happily in Heaven, much like the story parents tell their children about the dead family pet going away to live on a bucolic farm. Unfortunately, before she can take the kids away, the renderer drives up, jerking “the brake up like he was snapping / something’s neck” and proceeds to describe how he will have to saw Patsy’s legs off before hooking her up and driving the carcass away. The mother hastily rolls up the window and starts to leave the property. They drive away in silence for a few minutes, and then:
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“Mama?”
“Yes, Jack,” I said.
“Was that God?”
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Fry’s sense of humor shines throughout many of these poems, while expanding on her theme. “Don’t Let Anyone Dull Your Sparkle!” channels the snarky colleague who manages to undercut her co-workers while smiling her fake smile. “Help Desk” is a sort of surreal take on the recorded telephone message that “directs your call.” “The Show Dog” anthropomorphizes the competitors in competitions like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. “The Death of Rhetoric” humorously analyzes how language has been poisoned. It starts out:
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Take whatever.
Once royal, now it dwells
like a fallen angel
in the most ignoble realm:
the syntax of a sullen teen.
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These marvelous poems brim with wit, imagination and intelligence. What doesn’t simply charm or enchant you will make you wiser. (Am I right, Kelly Clarkson?)
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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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