by Nola Garrett

I never saw my grandmother twice
with the same colored hair.
Instead of the world, she traveled the spectrum— 
Tahitian Brown, Romanian Gold, Irish Red—
without even the pretense of reclaiming
tints once hers.
                          I was so embarrassed,
my teenaged self was mortified.

My grandmother after years of misdagnosis
died.  Rather than her liver,
it was her heart after all,
                                        but who could tell?
As for myself, one October afternoon
when earl snow on my unraked leaves
looked like me peering out of my mirror
at an old self, I wasn’t quite ready.  Yet,
my staid self departed on Light Brown # 7.

During my afternoon walk, I may have found
a geode.  Gray, hunched, a little off-center,
it could be opened, perhaps to a scatter of sand
or to an amethyst vault,
                                       or left alone
like both my grandmothers.  Oh, they married,
raised their share of children, but as widows
their lives began.
                             Neither was a Mrs.— 
just Belle and Marie.
                                   Belle for a living
sewed and mended, reused her basting thread,
played church piano, read, bathed at her kitchen sink
with multi-colored soap slivers.
                                                     Marie watched
TV evangelists, favored her richest son, dyed her hair
a different color every month, window shopped daily,
preferred rhinestones and orange.

Disliking dogs, sticky children, and old men
Belle and Marie each slept away
in their small lavender rooms.

I smile.  I whisper back to them
my middle name—Maribel. 


Poetry Out Loud

by Jim Danger Coppoc

Next month, I will be judging the State Finals for Poetry Out Loud in Iowa. Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest where high schoolers choose a selection of canonical poems to perform from the stage to a live audience.

I’ve done judging and coaching for POL in several states, and I’ve given most of my adult life to the study of spoken word. I intend to keep doing this as long as the various state arts councils allow me. I think it’s time I declared my biases and offered some coaching, so competitors know what they’re getting into.

First, a bit of rhetoric. Poets are people. Audiences are people. Poems are tools for disseminating ideas—logical, emotional and ethical—among people.

Who are your people? Who’s in your audience? Regardless of what the author intended (I’m very firmly in the “the author is dead” school), what do YOU intend to get across with this poem? What’s the central conflict/tension of the poem? What’s the core message? If you could assign your audience one “takeaway,” what would it be?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, all the technical performance work in the world can’t help you. Voice, breathing, dynamics, whatever—they are tools, not goals in themselves. They only work when you’re using them do the work of poetry—to get your ideas into somebody else’s head.

Of course, research can make this easier. If you read all the poems POL has to offer, and read them deeply and out loud, eventually you’ll know which poems speak to you best, and can best be translated by you to a live audience. Do not choose based on what you think people will like or what you think sounds like an important poem. Choose with your heart. Which one of these feels like it could/should be yours?

Next, lose the ridiculous distinction between poetry and song. There is none. A spoken poem is a song with particular choices in pitch and timbre. Your choir teacher/vocal coach has just as much to offer in this process as your English teacher, and might be willing to help. Use your resources, and SING!

With these two ideas in mind—1) that poetry comes alive only when it is treated as living communication among real live humans, and 2) that the mechanics of spoken word are breath for breath the same as the mechanics of song—you are ready to begin.

Print out the poem, double or triple spaced. Get a pencil, and mark it up. What are the natural dynamics (louder and softer parts) of this poem? Where does the tone change, and what should your voice/body do to reflect this? Where do you stumble, and need to put in extra work? What’s the core message, and how does each part of this poem contribute?

Remember, the poem should take your audience on a journey. If you read it the same way from beginning to end, the journey won’t be very interesting. Pay attention to what you’re doing in any given moment, how it’s related to all the other moments, and what you’re doing to bring the audience through these moments with you.

Also remember that I asked you to use a pencil. It’s likely your performance will grow and evolve as you practice. Don’t be afraid of this process. Embrace it, and keep pushing for something better. One end writes; the other end erases.

THIS IS THE ONLY ALL CAPS SENTENCE IN THIS ESSAY, BECAUSE I WANT YOU KNOW IT’S IMPORTANT! People don’t like to be yelled at all the time. People don’t even like to be talked to all the time. Have you ever seen a score of sheet music without any pauses?

Take your pencil, and mark all the natural silence in the poem. Remember that the words you’re using are drawn on a canvas of silence. Some poems are busier, some poems are quieter, but all poems have silence in them, and that has to be respected.

Now you’re ready to begin.

Stand up. Make sure there is room around you. Put your arms straight out to your sides, making a “T” with your body.

It is likely you did this with your palms down. Everybody does. In fact, this exercise wouldn’t work if you hadn’t.

Leave your arms where they are, and rotate your thumbs 180°, so that your palms face straight up, and your thumbs point behind you. Push your arms back, following your thumbs, until your hands are just behind the plane of your body.

If you did it correctly, this action should have pushed your sternum up and out, and your shoulders down and back. Whatever happens for the rest of the poem, keep you sternum out and your shoulders back. This is the only way your lungs and diaphragm have enough space to do their job.

Keep your sternum where it is. Lower your arms.

Your body is now prepared to breathe, so breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Take deep, slow breaths. Feel the energy flow in and out of your body, in balance with the air around you.

It’s not actually energy—it’s oxygen—but it has the same effect when you’re delivering a poem.

Now, on an out breath, begin your poem. Pay attention to all the dynamic and tonal markings you made on the page. Keep mind, body and spirit open. You should imagine yourself as an instrument. Don’t mute that instrument. Open.

This will be hard to maintain. I know this, and so does ever other working spoken-word artist on the planet. This is why we rehearse.

Now that you understand the poem, and you’ve begun using your body to correctly sing it, make space in your life to rehearse. Begin rehearsals early, and hold rehearsals often. Get as many live audiences as you can, and find microphones and stages as frequently as possible. The closer your rehearsal is to the actual conditions you’ll perform under, the better.

If there is an all-ages open mic near you, go there. If you happen to write your own poetry, and can find an all-ages poetry slam in your area, go there too. Even if you don’t write, find your local poetry slam, and sit in the audience. You can learn a lot just by watching.

As you rehearse, continuously google “Poetry Out Loud,” “poetry slam,” “spoken word poetry,” etc. Look up the great contemporary artists, like Shane Koyczan, Patricia Smith, Suheir Hammad, Anis Mojgani, and others. Locally, get all the audience you can find, and ask them to reflect back to you what they see, and where you can improve.

If you’re brave enough, record yourself, and watch the tapes.

As with any other sport or art, the more preparation you put into this, the better the results.

And now, at the end, come back to the beginning. When you step out on that stage and see me in the judges chair, when you see all your friends and teachers and their friends and family in the audience, when you see a sea of faces out there all looking back at you, waiting to hear what’s going to come out of your mouth in the next few minutes—remember that we are all human, and that there’s nothing humans want more than a good story.

Use your poem to give us that story.

The Education of a Gun Owner — Day Nine

by John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day Nine – Reflections

I sometimes consider how small the weapon is, and compare that to how much it can destroy.

I loaded the weapon just once, just to see what it feels like. It felt heavier than I expected. Then I unloaded it. Now, the Smith And Wesson sits under a hat across the room. It’s like I’m hiding it from myself. The most positive feeling I can muster now is ambivalence.

Our house was robbed once, so I have had fantasies about killing the burglar. I’m a war veteran, and, unlike a lot of the folks I’ve spoken to, I don’t have to ask myself if I would shoot someone. I did shoot someone. Which leads me to the conclusion that, fantasies notwithstanding, I don’t know if I have it in me to ever shoot anyone else. I do know that I own nothing worth a human life.

As I write this essay, there is news of a massive school shooting. This news has eclipsed recent news of a massive mall shooting. By the time I publish this essay, there will be yet another massive shooting somewhere someplace. I wish I could end this essay on a note of hope. But I am amazed at how little my government cares about weapons in private hands. When I made inquires, the local police were indifferent. A summary of my state’s regulations I read while I drank a cup of coffee. I have no idea why the National Rifle Association is worried. My city has more regulations about siding than side arms.

That said, I no longer favor gun control. I want weapons banned. I’m tired of crying when I see, on the front page of my newspaper, terrified children being led to safety from a shot-up school. As for the Second Amendment, I am not a “well regulated militia,” and neither is Jared Lee Loughner or Adam Lanza or Mark David Chapman.

As for our Smith And Wesson, I’m heading back to the gun shop, asking $250 for the .38, and then – I’m thinking sushi for me and, dare I say, my better half.


The Education of a Gun Owner — Day Eight

by John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day Eight

Janet gives me the address of a gun smith, who specializes in antiques. I drive over after work.

Surprisingly, the place is more like a museum than what I expect, a gun-nut hobby shop. And the owners are well educated and articulate.

One guy went to my high school, a private Catholic high school, and we chat at length. I mention that I graduated in 1968, went into the army in 1969, served a tour in Nam. Suddenly, I find I’m one of the guys.

I bring my weapon in. I ask if the revolver is safe. The short answer is yes. The action is fine, the tolerances like new. It’s doubtful if it’s ever been fired. The ammunition is also safe.

So I ask – what do I do with a gun?

“You have no reason to ever fire this”, the gun smith says. And repeats this at least three times. He tells me that this weapon is made of a very low grade of steel, “like the stuff that was used in the Titanic.” I meditate on how well that went. Then he tells me that, if I fire the weapon, I should wear protective eye glasses. And once we’re talking about wounding body parts, I’m done.


The Education of a Gun Owner — Day Seven

by John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day Seven

I ask a neighbor if he thinks I should register this pistol. “No, no, no! The only thing registration will do is help the government find you when they come to take our guns away.”

I don’t know what to say. But I think to myself, “Isn’t there about 17,000 societal things that will go wrong long before the National Guard kicks down my door, and confiscates my antique .38?”


Dance Review: Recipes our Mothers Gave Us by Corningworks

Reviewed by Adrienne Totino

A cheery voice boomed through the speakers at the New Hazlett Theater’s Saturday performance of Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us. “You have thirty seconds to choose your ingredients to make a happy life!”

Beth Corning, director of Corningworks, and her dancing partners, Maria Cheng and Francoise Fournier, all rushed to the back of the stage like contestants of a competition reality show, determined to cook up the right recipe for success.

That section came near the beginning of the hour-long dance theater production, and it was perhaps the most memorable: hilarious, but poignant and relevant. The entire show questioned the old clichés we were taught by our mothers. What “recipes” were passed down to us, and how many of those succeeded and failed?

Corning, who choreographed the show as part of the Glue Factory Project (dedicated to performers over age forty), added a Ken doll to her pot of “soup.” And later, as per the American way, a dash of white happy pills.

Cheng, a Chinese choreographer, playwright and actor, dropped a toy piano into her stew, which may have been a quip at the stereotype of Asian-Americans as aspiring pianists.

Fournier, a French-Swedish dancer, rocked a baby doll before tossing it into her mix. Fournier had many moments throughout the show that questioned the old convention of our biological clocks ticking.

Another funny, yet dark, moment came when Fournier performed an emotional solo under low lights. Cheng and Corning stood above her, making critical comments about the movement. They contradicted themselves constantly, proving the point that everyone has their own version of happiness, not to be projected onto others. “Too slow,” Cheng said. “No, too fast,” insisted Corning. Too fat! Too lean! And on and on until Fournier walked off the stage while the two continued to argue over what was right.

That section ended with Cheng speaking honestly about what her mother thought about womanhood. Beauty was sexy, and sex would keep her from being alone. To which Cheng asked the audience, “What if being alone is better than bad sex?”

The show was filled with that wonderful balance of humor and seriousness. Although there was no precise narrative, the three performers seemed to let go of what they’d been taught, to write new and unique grocery lists.

After mindlessly pushing a baby carriage around, Fournier placed it over her head, flipping the notion that children make women happy literally upside down. Cheng tried to squeeze herself into a stainless steel pot, only to discover she didn’t fit that mold. She tossed the ingredients in the air instead, and joyfully pranced through it before exiting the stage. And Corning danced to the beat of her own kitchen whisk. She stopped furiously stirring her soup in favor of her own lighthearted dance.

The show ended on a more subdued note. The three of them each lay on individual cooking carts they’d used throughout the performance. They wondered quietly if they were destined to become their mothers. Was it simply in their DNA? Corning shushed them, shunning the idea.

The stage went silent, then dark. The answer was clear. Life was what these seasoned performers had made of it. Like the full red wine they’d left onstage, in clear, tall glasses, these women had definitely become better with age. That particular cliché must be true.

The Education of a Gun Owner — Day Six

by John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day Six

I want to speak to someone about gun safety, and about registering my weapon. So I call the police. A secretary answers. She is quite helpful, cheery, almost ebullient. She tells me of the “gun safety officer,” who can visit my home. I find such community outreach comforting. I’m told to call back later.

I call back later. I get a lieutenant, who has no idea what a “gun safety officer” is. Instead, we chat for a few minutes. He, too, is quite helpful, if a bit dismissive. Overall, however, I am most impressed by how little he cares about my weapon.

He tells me I don’t need to register my revolver, although it might be helpful, for example, “if someone steals it and uses it in a murder.” But registration is not necessary. Ownership is conveyed by virtue of the fact that my father-in-law gave us the desk and all it contained. And that’s as legal as it gets. I went through more trouble installing cable TV.


The Education of a Gun Owner — Day Five

bu John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day Five

I’ve thought a lot about masculinity. One thing Vietnam taught me is that sometimes masculinity is simply too high a price to pay for being male. Is owning a gun about being masculine?


The Education of a Gun Owner — Day Four

by John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day Four

I need a haircut. I tell my barber, and the barber shop gang, about my weapon. Here for the first time, I get camaraderie. Wistful memories about youthful hunting. Several good tips on safety.


The Education of a Gun Owner — Day Three

by John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day Three

I think this weapon is making me mildly hysterical, presuming one can be just a bit hysterical. This pistol is all I think about. I note that I never fantasize about what can go wrong with this weapon. That said, it’s not like what can go right is soothing.

I go to work. I informally survey my colleagues. About half have a weapon. I am amazed. One administrator owns four. A fellow is about to inherit 50. People are startled when I ask, “Do you own a gun?” It’s a bit higher order of a question than, “Do you own a Buick?,” but not quite as personal as “Do you own any porn?” Several, who don’t own a gun, admit to wanting one. These are some of the kindest, gentlest, best educated folks I know. Of those I asked, not one lives in a dangerous neighborhood – including me.

Today, I had to humble myself to Janet. I’ve argued with her over the 2nd Amendment, me anti-gun, and she pro. I had to ask her, “What do I do with a gun? I don’t known jack about the laws. I can’t tell whether the gun, and the ammo, are safe. I haven’t handled a weapon in 40-plus years.” Stuff like that. She spared me a razzing. Her snarky smile sufficed. She said she’d get back to me.

Through the internet, I’ve discovered that I have an antique. I half-own a Smith And Wesson Model 4 “pocket pistol,” a nickel-plated, five-shot .38 caliber “top break” that was manufactured no later than 1907, making it over 105 years old. It’s sometimes referred to as a “lemon squeezer.” The model is not rare. It’s worth a few hundred dollars. Phoebe says we should sell it, and treat ourselves to a nice dinner.


The Education of a Gun Owner — Day Two

by John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day Two

I’m surprised at how small the gun seems.

I looked up my state’s gun regulations online. It was a quick read. As near as I can tell, I can buy, carry and conceal everything up to and including a Light Anti-Tank Weapon.

Phoebe went to visit her father today. She asked him about the gun. He barely remembers it.


The Education Of A Gun Owner

by John Samuel Tieman

Gun Day One

Actually, I am not a gun owner. I am half a gun owner. The revolver is right here, in front of my keyboard.

I never thought I’d say that. With the exception of one drunken New Year’s at John McGoogan’s, I haven’t fired a weapon since I was in Vietnam.

I’m surprised I have a pistol. I didn’t plan on it.

My wife’s parents went into the old folks home a few weeks ago. My wife and I, and well as my in-laws, have been moving stuff out of their home ever since, this in anticipation of selling the house.

Phoebe, my wife, really wanted her father’s desk, a lovely oak affair with plenty of drawers. Her father used the desk at the pharmacy he owned, the Delmar-Taylor Pharmacy. He had moved the desk from his pharmacy to his house in University City.

We moved the desk into Phoebe’s study, but the drawers were stuck. The two movers fussed with them until, finally, the bottom drawer opened. And there was an old .38 pocket pistol, along with a holster and a box of ammunition.

The men all paused. Suddenly, something was in the room that could kill us.

Phoebe, interestingly, took the least interest. “I was wondering where that gun was.” She knew her father had a .38. He had been robbed several times at the pharmacy, so a sympathetic cop gave him the pistol in maybe 1950 or ’60. At that time, it would have been a very old weapon. Eventually, he brought it home. Phoebe, in a sense, grew up with it. I, on the other had never had a weapon in the house.

I asked the mover to hand it to me. Now. From my army days, I know this much about handling a weapon: First, make sure it’s unloaded.

The mover offered me 20 bucks for it. I said no. My first impulse was to throw it away. But it’s not really mine. It’s my father-in-law’s. Except he’s blind and in the old folks home, so I guess it’s my wife’s, which makes it half-mine.

What do I do with a gun?

It’s a Smith and Wesson. Respectable. The revolver is in good condition. No rust. Barely needs oiling and cleaning. My father-in-law was the gun owner equivalent of the “little ole lady from Pasadena.” Then I look at the ammunition. Hollow points. So my gentle father-in-law had his bad-ass potential.

I’m not about to shoot any of this stuff, however. Not until I’m sure it’s all safe. The revolver and the ammunition are old. And I’d like to get older.

So how do I feel about this weapon?

It’s arousing. I feel powerful. But that feeling is fleeting. Because I fought a war, I know what it’s like to be shot at and shoot back. But I know enough about all that to know that this doesn’t mean I could do it again. Still, there have been some shootings in the nearby park, and, while I wouldn’t call myself paranoid, I have my dark visions.

This whole business raises all manner of question. Given my near-pacifist leanings, shouldn’t I just throw the revolver away? I’ve been extremely conscious of having a gun around the house. Do I really want to be comfortable with that? If I keep it, where do I keep it? What do I do with a gun?

If I’m going to get all bad-ass, shouldn’t I get a concealed carry permit? Or do I even want to take it outside the house?

If I keep the thing, should I take lessons – I used to be a musician, so the only comparison I have is to music lessons – in safety and shooting? If the truth be known, when I was in the army, I liked target practice. I was good at it, and I have Expert Rifleman Badge to prove it. Which reminds me that this weapon, like my old M-14, isn’t made for fun. It’s made for killing folks.

I’ve got to stop-by the police station, and ask them, “What do I do with a gun?”


Book Review: Gospel of Dust by Joseph Ross

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Gospel of Dust
Poems by Joseph Ross
Main Street Rag, 2013

Reviewed by C.L. Bledsoe

There are a lot of people out there writing poetry, and most of it will be forgotten tomorrow, or maybe even later today. But just a handful of poets might be remembered. Joseph Ross should be one of those poets. Ross writes the poetry of witness. His debut, Meeting Bone Man, is a powerful meditation on mortality and humanity. Ross’ follow up, Gospel of Dust, continues Ross’ investigations while shifting to a humanistic examination of Christian values and beliefs.

“In a Summer of Snipers,” is one of several poems dealing with the Civil Rights movement, and not only the accomplishments of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, but the fact that many of them knew that they were probably going to be murdered for their actions. Ross shifts to Brazil for “Mothers of the Disappeared” in which he describes the aftermath of political dissidence. Later, Ross considers the murder of David Kato, a Ugandan Gay Rights Activist, and Matthew Shephard:

Though you died
in crisp hospital sheets,

no one believes you
felt them touch your skin.

The last touch your
skin knew was wooden:

a prairie fence, whose wood
was nearly as splintered

as you.

These poems appear in a section called “The Human Gospel,” and it’s difficult not to see the connection Ross draws between martyrdom and holiness. These people often carry certain qualities of sainthood, sacrifice being the most obvious, but also the effect they, or their deaths, have had on the zeitgeist. But not enough effect, obviously; something Ross is trying to remedy.

The second section in the book is called “The Pieta Gospel,” though many of the poems in the book could be described as pietas of a sort. Ross begins with Fritz Eichenberg’s “Pieta” and shifts to “American Pieta,” a poem about the photograph of Mary Vecchio kneeling beside Jeffrey Miller who’d been killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State. One of the more well-known poems in this section is Ross’s excellent “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God:”

If Mamie Till was the mother
of God

one of the ten commandments
would forbid whistling.

No one would wear cotton
clothing, every cotton field

would be burned in praise
of fourteen

year-old boys
and their teeth.

If Mamie Till was the mother
of God

every river would be still
so nothing thrown in

could travel downstream;
barbed wire could only be

worn as a necklace
by senators.

If Mamie Till was the mother
of God

every coffin lid would be
glass, so even God could see

how baptisms are done
in Mississippi.

Ross’ closing image is especially keen; he’s captured a violent, uncaring world where even God seems oblivious, unaware of just how brutal His world has become.

“The Written Gospel” is Ross’ third section, in which he examines specific biblical instances such as the washing of feet. “The Ritual Gospel” closes out the book with some of Ross’ most powerful poems. Ross established a style of series poems in his first book, and he continues it in this section with poems about Tupac Shakur, for example, in which Shakur is considered as a martyr and even prophet. Cool Disco Dan, the graffiti artist, returns as the subject of a series of poems, as does J. Alfred Prufrock.

What makes Ross stand out is his voice as much as his subject matter. His voice is wise and caring; it’s humanistic and loving, even towards those who’ve done terrible wrongs. Not to seem condescending, but Ross writes about things that matter. So much of modern arts—from visual arts to writing to music—is nihilistic in its approach, and nihilism simply cannot maintain an audience’s interest because it’s incapable of progress and change. If nothing matters, why should I even pay attention? It’s a masturbatory trap, at best, and something quite sinister (though unintentionally so) at worst. Ross is an antidote to this nihilism, which may seem ironic since his work so often deals with death and suffering.

Joseph Ross is the author of two collections of poetry, Meeting Bone Man (2012) and Gospel of Dust (2013). His poetry has earned multiple Pushcart Prize nominations and the 2012 Pratt Library – Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. His poems appear in many anthologies and journals including Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion and Spirituality, Tidal Basin Review, Drumvoices Revue, Poet Lore, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. In 2007, he co-edited Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib. He teaches in the Department of English at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. and writes at JosephRoss.net

Today is Records Keeping Day

by Publius

I just get back from Christmas Vacation and walk in, when I see Dr. Galvin running down the hall swinging a broom over his head. Literally. Running down the hall swinging a broom. Later I learn that a bat got in the school. Later. But since I didn’t see the bat — the bat was having no part of this swinging broom thing — there was no ready explanation for Dr. Galvin.

Nor was there any ready explanation for Records Keeping Day. We’re having Records Keeping Day on a day in which there are no records to keep. It’s the day before second semester. We’ve turned in all our first semester records. There are no records yet to keep. I haven’t even seen a second semester student. Hell, I didn’t even see the bat.

Book Review: Now, Now by Jennifer Maier

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Now, Now
Poems by Jennifer Maier
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013

Reviewed by Alison Taverna

If Jennifer Maier’s second full-length collection, Now, Now, was likened to a type of candy it would be a Hershey’s Special Dark. I say this based on accurate metaphor, not hunger. On first chew, Maier’s poems are delicate, quiet, deliberately fond with a spark of bitter, subtle destruction, as if what is sweet is temporary. It’s a world of the everyday—of Dave the Electrician, paper men cut-outs, and Edith Wharton’s classic Ethan Frome. Yet, in Maier’s collection the tender hand of memory is tainted by the fleeting nature of time, the past relative to the past of this exact moment, suddenly gone, as she writes, “the past,/ once yours, you wouldn’t trade for any other,/ ringed by the past you’re living now—here…” Everything, it appears, ends while it begins.

I once read in my high school journalism textbook each bar of chocolate contains eight insect legs. I imagine the grasshoppers in their sugar comas, ripped apart in sleep by the dessert miners, their tiny spindle bodies not surprised because it happened to their brothers and sisters. A result of their environment, our lives are a balance as Maier explains, “In the midst of life we are in death.” Now, Now is a woman’s middle-aged awakening, the romantics of youth manifest only in nostalgia and time “a collapsible cup.”

The first poem in the three-section collection, “Hangman” brims with tension, foreshadows the fallible future, which carries into each poem of Maier’s. On the surface, a daughter rides shotgun to her father as they drive into town, play hangman on a pad of paper. It seems innocent enough—the word Volcano—the daughter excited to stump, unaware of the real danger as Maier writes, “he can still get it you know he can if he just concentrates,/ so you hand him the bottle, taking the wheel as he leans back, eyes closed, thinking.” The speaker of the poem seems to be positioned outside their car, this moment, as if it has already been lived and in remembering, years later, the speaker sees the warning signs to come. This is achieved, and appears subtle and effortless, through Maier’s balance between the interior and exterior of the vehicle. She weaves, “Then seven spaces underneath,/ like the broken centerline the father will cross when he feels/ under the seat for the bottle…” The speaker is omniscient here, unveils the inevitability of death hanging, in wait, like the penciled circle of the hangman’s head. Her language is suggestive of violence in, “the headlights that slice through the cab like a quick and painless incision” and “the road a running scar through the dense woods…” Maier likens the hangman to the father, a childhood game to the reality of death. This is the poem that begins her collection, and so, we understand within the following pages that memories will be re-visited and re-examined in an attempt to locate what always existed: imperfection.

While the first section seems the most concentrated to a particular past, the second and third section appear current, moments fresh from happening with titles “The Wind Blows My Dictionary Open To ‘Man’” and “Sharing A Bath.” Yet, what carries throughout all sections is Maier’s wrestle with love—what should it look like, how should it resonate, does it alter with the passing of time and the loss of youth? Should it?

Two of my favorite poems, “Jane” and “Heat and Light” examine the wild, uninhibited love. While the speaker in “Jane” believes with few doubts the relationship between Jane and Tarzan existed, she questions the reality of a woman giving herself entirely to a man:

“Jane was pure make believe: the good,
A-student girl who gives up everything for sex…

And if you were like her, dipped in the waters
of her nature, how could you find your way
home to that lost continent? How could
you ever return?”

To the speaker, the question is not why Jane loves Tarzan, but how. The sacrifice too large to conceive and hidden among the social constructs, for “a woman shapes/ a man, haft and point, into the thing she needs…”

“Heat and Light” echoes the desire to discourage the Jane and Tarzan love, through the novel Ethan Frome. The speaker reminisces on Sister Bertrand’s sophomore English class, thinks,

“She must have thought the subject
of doomed, illicit love
would slow the downward slide
she’d marked in faces streaked
with rouge, in pleated skirts,
rolled at the waist.”

Here, she pushes against Sister’s Bertrand’s opinion of Ethan and Mattie’s love, claims a tight hold, for “Love,/ our true religion, would save them/ in the end.” Wharton though, does not save Ethan and Mattie, and so the ideal, sacrificial love is broken and the students, broken, are left copying “More heat than light” down for their test. Maier is conscious of the past and its ability to curb the future, the speaker’s ideas of womanhood shifted by the literature of her childhood. The past is never the past, but fluid in its influence on the present and future.

Now, Now does not seem to reach a climax or spiral towards a particular finish. For Maier, there is no end, but only the interconnectedness of time and our memory’s desire to look backwards. Maier’s title to her collection represents this idea. On one level, Now, Now sounds like words cooed with a gentle pat after receiving bad news. On a deeper level, the title speaks to Maier’s main focus: time is never stagnant. The now that exists before the first comma is over in an instant, followed by another now. Memory aids in our remembering, but it fails to slow down this process. It’s bittersweet, this life, but Maier accepts this, as should we, as she reminds,

“And if it all passed in an instant,
a comfort now to know you had your life of ordinary good,
of love’s tart fruits, its showery blossoms.”

Jennifer Maier is professor of English at Seattle Pacific University and associate editor of the arts quarterly IMAGE. Her other poetry collection Dark Alphabet won the Crab Orchard Review Series in Poetry First Book Award and was named one of the Ten Remarkable Books of 2006 by the Academy of American Poets. Maier’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Poetry, New Letters, Smartish Pace, American Poetry Review, and has been featured on Public Radio International’s The Writer’s Almanac.