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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.


If ever you doubted the wonders still available to you for next-to-nothing, you might find reassurance in the poetry section of a used bookstore. Here, again, I am drinking deeply from that well on a gorgeous Sunday, reading this copy of Four Testimonies by Kate Daniels. In one hand is the crumpled price tag, offering this collection for 75 cents, and in the other is Simone Weil and Eugène Atget and the heart-wrenching fragments sifted from the 1989 freeway collapse in Oakland, and all this covered in a richness of detail and delivered with an almost disarming directness. Then, too, there are the more personal and physical poems, those dripping in mother's milk and sex and violence and loss. The series on domestic violence is raw and full of hurt, but it also houses such moments of triumph as this:

How can I tell I gave birth

to the universe, what a god

I was, how omnipotent, how

large. You stupid man,

what can be said about making

a creature, a living creature,

from a homely, mortal body?

While I relate to her reflections on being a mother and a poet, the opening section with Weil at its center is my favorite, especially this long, building bit about being a woman:


full of tenderness as any

woman, soft at the core, turned

on the same lathe of negative

space, dark tunnel

tuned vulnerable, delicate

honeycomb, chambered but tough.

... To be a woman ---

the one they recognized ---

was so absurd --- hanging back

instead of plunging forward, denying strength,

keeping hands soft and gloved and clasped

in the lap, not staring

anyone in the face, not speaking, not

thinking, not being

anyone at all

who owns herself

but someone who always

belongs to others, anyone

at all who affords the price,

in the way that a portrait

of a beautiful woman --- a naked woman ---

belongs to the buyer. Painting purchased,

she's as good as dead

for what remains of the actual

creature who posed so proudly,

hair lustrous, body sleek,

rare thoughts churning in her living brain.


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