79º ~ bright sun, slight breeze, birdsong, pretty much a perfect spring day
Some years ago, before I started posting my mini-personal responses to books here, I read Markham's first book, Ninety-five Nights of Listening, which won the Bakeless Prize and was published by Mariner Books. I fell in love with Markham's work, I fell hard. So, when I saw that she had a new book coming out in 2010 from New Issues, I was thrilled, and I put it on my list. Somehow, I never got around to ordering it. When I was at AWP 2012, I meant to get a copy and forgot, so this year at AWP, I made the New Issues table my first stop in the book fair and bought a copy of Having Cut the Sparrow's Heart.
Markham's book has been on the top of my to-read pile since I returned from Boston in March. Yesterday and today, I sank into this amazing collection.
Having Cut the Sparrow's Heart, like Ninety-five Nights of Listening, is hugely influenced by Markham's experiences living in Japan and her studying and translating of Japanese poetry. Sparrow's Heart is a book of fairy tales of Markham's own invention, weaving together strands and themes of Eastern traditional tales (that I know only slightly) with themes of the modern, fragile, global community. This is a book of danger and a search for comfort that isn't always found. The speaker always remains separate, foreign, at odds with both the natural world and the people, flora, & fauna found in it.
Here is an example from the opening of "Having Overheard Talk of the Fates, the Clearest Answer is Silence."
Low voices carry on wind. One of the children
will burst into luck, the other will curl
into ash. That year, the solstice-flower
unfolded red petals all at once,
over grass so sharp you could slice
fingers on it.
And here, another passage, this time from the middle of "The Outing."
Stitch the leaves shut with their cries.
Sing once, and the dolls go to sleep.
The teapot falls off a rock and bursts
Into stars. See, there is light now.
We tell all the stories we know.
This is an urgent book, but it is a quiet, tragic urgency. I had a feeling it would become a touchstone for me, and that feeling gathers strength, now, in the aftermath of the first reading.