I remember liking this collection more when I first read it five years ago. That is not to say that I do not still really like many of the poems in this collection. It’s just that I find the collection uneven. Many of the poems veer deeply abstract, and that is not where I am in my life. I enjoy where Graham’s lines and images align, enriching the texture of a beautifully specific scene.
In “Wanting a Child,” I feel the water when the poet writes, “How hard it is for the river here to re-enter/the sea, though it’s most beautiful, of course, in the waste/of time where it’s almost,/turned back. Then/it’s yoked,/trussed. . . .The river/has been everywhere, imagine, dividing, discerning,/cutting deep into the parent rock,/scouring and scouring/its own bed.” The images of human-manipulated waterways and fish created many of the strongest images for me. In “Reading Plato,” it’s the description of the man carefully creating his own fishing lures: “Bareheaded, in a soiled/shirt,/speechless, my friend/is making//lures, his hobby. Flies/so small/he works with tweezers and/a magnifying glass./They must be/so believable//they’re true–feelers,/antennae,/quick and frantic/as something/drowning.” Graham captures a similar scene in “Salmon” despite merely watching the salmon run on television: “I watched them once, at dusk, on television, run,/in our motel room half-way through/Nebraska, quick, glittering, past beauty, past/the importance of beauty,/archaic,/not even hungry, not even endangered, driving deeper and deeper/into less. They leapt up falls, ladders,/and rock, tearing and leaping, a gold river/and a blue river traveling/in opposite directions.”
The best moments capture not just the image of nature, but the momentum and trajectory. They become the documentary as well as any Ansel Adams black-and-white. “Although it doesn’t seem/anything’s missing,/thousands of wasps/have eaten/intelligently/of these branches//and made, out of spittle/and pulp/a fine grey paper/they’ve bandaged/sheet after sheet/round and under and through//the branchings/until it’s/a nest, a dark grey/freedom” [from “Wood Wasps in the Spanish Willow”].
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