Once upon a time I was a broke grad student who craved buying books of poetry. At that time, I could usually tell you exactly where and when I bought each book. With good fortune, I now have a full-time job, and the paycheck allows me to buy books at will (my to-read shelf on the newish bookcase is already sagging at the center...and this is a sturdy bookcase!). So, now, I often forget how I came by certain titles.
Not so with Traci Brimhall's Rookery. I purchased it at the Crab Orchard Review / Southern Illinois University Press table at the bookfair at AWP this year. And I bought it specifically because I had been blown away by a set of poems by Brimhall that I'd read in Copper Nickel while on the plane to DC. So, if you are ever wondering if anyone sees your poems in journals and if that makes a difference. YES, IT DOES!
I had heard a few fantastic rumblings about Rookery on other blogs before I dove into the book; however, I try to not read, fully, other reviews before I start the book so that I come to it clean. On the flip side, if I read a review of a book I don't own and haven't heard of, it might lead me to buy the book. (I know, I'm a flip-flopper!) All of this is to say that those fantastic rumblings weren't even close to how wonderful I found this book to be.
When I read a book that really sets my hair on fire, I fill the last page with tons of notes. Here's a picture of the last page of Rookery.
You can bet that the book now bulges with the number of dog-eared pages as well.
Rookery is divided into three sections and I'm thankful for that. I began reading the first section, "1. (n) A colony of rooks," one afternoon recently. (Each section is title for a definition of "rookery" and each section title includes a prose poem rumination on that definition. Beautiful!) So, the first section deals with a difficult marriage in which one partner appears to be having an affair. There are hints at a lost child as well. The speaker of the poems is loyal to the marriage, yet, with great complications she cannot bring herself to leave her unfaithful lover. There is such heartbreak and sadness in these poems, and such beauty that I had to take a break after finishing section one. I was full to bursting with emotion.
Here is the opening of "Aubade with a Fox and a Birthmark"
You crawl into bed, apologies and insect wings
in your hair. I forgive the way you touched her knees,
your amber memory of her body. I make you tell me
how her pleasure sounded--a fox with its paw
in a trap's jaw, blood on her thigh.
Wow. There is definitely an echo of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being throughout this first section, another book that left me full to bursting.
I am stunned by the force of the honesty in these poems and the deftness of the images, largely drawn from nature, but in new and unexpected ways.
Here is the ending of "Noli Me Tangere"
But we are minor kingdoms of salt and heat.
We trace each other's scars--proof of our small
green hearts and violent beginnings, engines of cell
and nerve, yielding to a silent, lonely union.
Section two, "2. (n) A breeding place," takes us back to the speaker's childhood and sexual awakening; here religion also begins to take a prominent position and that position is one of questioning. There are encounters with men heightened with sexual tension, there are mission trips and talk of the rapture, and there are always stunning and haunting metaphors.
In "Chastity Belt Lesson" the speaker is touring a museum with a display about the Middle Ages. It bears mentioning that the speaker is making this tour with her father, not her mother, who enters the poem in the final lines with a subtle zing. Here we learn that during the Crusades, chastity belts were "not for the Crusader's wives." Instead, the were
..................................for girls when the streets bristled
with arrows. When the air reeked of burning roofs,
............and men's voices swarmed like hornets.
....Mothers and daughters pushed tips of keys into their throats
And then, the stunner, the locks described as "Two serrated kisses between their legs." And finally, the "girls surrendered // their prayers to the mouths of soldiers." Wow. These poem do exactly what great poems should do; they leave me speechless.
Finally, section three, "3. (n) A crowded tenement house," takes us on a more general journey of violence in this fragile world. Here we see the speaker's religious crisis deepening. There are poems for the women of the Triangle Waist Shirt Factory fire and the women in The Odyssey who kept the suitors company in Odysseus' house and thus paid with their lives. There is a poem for Margaret Garner, an escaped slave who killed her newborn child when the slave hunters closed in. And there are poems that question our humanity.
Here is the opening of "Battle Hymn"
Lord, I have seen a mother pull her son's arm
............from its socket and know that in years to come
when he sees her cry, his shoulder will ache
............and he will love her harder. I have seen myself
ravenous with God-fearing hold a hammer
............over something I cherished.
I'll leave you then with these lines from "Prayer to Delay the Apocalypse," Dear Reader, and urge you to read this book if what you've seen here appeals.
"Tell me heaven will be like Venice--dirty, beautiful / and sinking."
"Take the ghosts first, / they've gone mad grieving for the world."
"Let us continue wandering in these perishable machines // made of dirt and music."
"...like an angel / carry me to the end of the world and lay me down."
Support a Poet / Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today!Rookery
Southern Illinois University Press, 2010