Back in December 2020, I had the pleasure of reviewing Helen, or My
Hunger by Gale Marie Thompson. I am happy to report that Thompson has
finally published a new collection, equally as rich as Helen, but in a very
different (and more personal) way.
"It seems important to know the name for this
smallish mountain. What cleave could take me
on, wounded in an under-the-porch way, still
marked with the blueprint of a predator."
From this beginning, Thompson takes us on a journey exploring the losses,
temporary and permanent, brought on by Covid among other things, and
the isolation and uncertainty they triggered.
"The Turnover" describes the fragility of even simple residing on the earth:
"In the time it took to produce
this sentence, the spinal//
shadow of my house has leaned
its wet angle over the yard//
so completely, a massacre
how little and yet
how much it matters
to count the dead."
Language itself is problematic in "The Dialect Remembers":
"Frightening, though, that language can mean
exactly what we want it to mean.
Or, what it wants us to mean. Like when I say I love you or I want to
die—how terrifying it is
that those words might be true.//
"But crisis is only the beginning. The break. So we turn its wheel, push our
hands through to the wrist, and watch the minutes pump
and pump. Then—the brink, the strike of open slit, sweetening of ferment,
all sugar and sun.
And the painful, florid bloom of passing forward.
A wheel set round with teeth."
In the long title poem, the speaker tells of the difficulty in finding a place
and holding it:
"No longer new
to this valley, I am still stupid
and faithful. I blister the tomatoes
and over the phone declare
this is good news when they move
my uncle to a new hospital.
The lowing cattle make hideous sounds
that I confuse with chainsaws
and processing machines.
Elevation is the only direction here.
My cup runneth over, but who can I tell.//
To be out and away from the world
is not a virtue. Even my face has become something
glass-green and lawless.
A kind of loosening of the cheeks.//
The rain pulls each leaf away
without pomp, rearranges the air.//
My cup runneth over, but who can I tell."
The cost and emotional aftermath of violence is examined in
"Because I am thinking of a little girl
I didn't know, once a girl,
but now a dead woman I knew, just a bit, and the sweet things about her
being alive: lemon berry shortbread and the backs of knees,
raw dates, the thickest of milk and rage.
I am still watching her tiny body
gloss away. She the victim
of someone else's buckshot orbit. Who is responsible, as in: who answers
Something happens to the sweet things….//
Nothing is arranged. The day is short
but never ends, only folds in, over.
The rooster's queasy crow starts early
and sickles, and sickles. It's not the boot,
but the hands that make the boot."
The collection ends on a note of—not hope, but perhaps a determination to
survive in the face of death and other loss:
"There is so much to learn here, in this place where fire does
the kind of good violence we need it to.
Already I have taken to calling
this valley floor peat, the most useful of gathered deaths. Each day
my dog and I nod to the soft, pulpy rot of the world
from behind the sleek blackberries. Good work, good work, we say—
meaning step back, step back….//
But the things we love
are already over, send off the same
sleek gasses of death as anything else. There is no satisfaction or defense,
just the true song of collapse.
Our fox announces herself like a star in
wobbling red. She makes
her finite mistakes, then releases them
at the end of her shift. Step back, step back,
she says. We fire to raze."
One can only touch on the richness of this collection in a short review. In
addition to the power and beauty of the language, the poems display a rare
moral and intellectual depth.
Order Mountain Amnesia here: https://upcolorado.com/university-press