Image by Kimberly Farmer

Sara Beth West

(@fiftytwowest)

is a reader and a writer, offering book reviews and interviews with leading writers and thinkers.

On Sundays, We Read Poetry

Each Sunday, I post a brief introduction to a collection of poetry I've been loving. I include one poem that I think really sings. No review. No need. If it's here, you'll know I recommend it. If you have one to recommend (yours or someone else's), send it along. I'll do my best to be here every Sunday.

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Besides being an amazing collection, top-to-bottom, this book has brought me delight in the form of marginalia. Picked up (for .75!) from the huge used bookstore in town, my copy of Mary Ruefle's Selected Poems has surprised me in more ways than one. First, the interior of the front cover sports a fancy floral bookplate, complete with a full-name signature of the previous owner (who will remain here anonymous). I have to admit I didn't know bookplates were still a thing.


Then, there are the few notes, thankfully in pencil, which I erased as I read. This seems particularly fitting since Ruefle is also widely admired for her erasure art. I could be wrong, of course, but it seems the previous reader was just discovering poetry, her comments so raw as to feel vulnerable. But also strangely pragmatic, like a robot attempting to write a poem by noting precisely what this particular poet did (start with a line or image you really like).


Only three poems had any notations, all in the first ten pages. Then there was silence, as though the reader gave it her best effort and then gave up, throwing up her hands and taking it to the used bookstore, convinced nothing here is worth even the 75 cents someone else might be willing to pay for it, slightly disappointed she wasted one of her good bookplates.

It's comical, somehow, and also tremendously sad. But here I am now, falling over myself to taste another and another and oh yes, please one more, of these delicious poems. Ruefle speaks my language, and I am thankful for the speaking of it. Here is one of my favorites, "Cul-de-sac:"


The milkman delivered the milk.

Out of desperation, I suppose.

My mother took het mink stole

out of its bag and I saw her initials

on the inside satin shimmering

like the future itself.

My father took his gold clubs out of their mitts

and I saw the enormous integers

each one was assigned.

In September I got new shoes

whether I needed them or not.

In April a hat of pastel straw.

We had a carport and lived on a cul-de-sac.

I know these things are fleshless and void,

as unimportant as a mouse.

Hardly full of farmlight and yet like

the farmlight that slips in under my door

where my bookcases are weighted with books.

My brother has a van full of rifles,

a string of wives and children

along the interstate, and I do not know

if he shaves or does not. We each think

the other has flattened a life.

I read one day that Jesus had a sister.

I wish I had her tenacity.

The woodshed shudders in the wind.

The barn is stark on the hill.

My mother's name and my father's numbers

lie in a landfill that is leveled far away.

Brother, I have been unable to attain a balance

between important and unimportant things.


Want more from Ruefle? This interview with The Paris Review is just wonderful.

The best books spark the best conversations! If you have thoughts to share, please feel free to send me a message. I promise a reply. 

 

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