This began as one kind of book and finished as something else. No, wait, that’s not true. I began as one kind of reader, with one set of expectations, and ended as another, with the change occuring around page 15 (out of 29 total pages of poetry). Which perhaps not coincidentally is where I resumed reading in mid-afternoon, after getting up from a long nap.
When I set the book aside this morning, I had been reading about the speaker’s mother being in love with boats and spending her vacation at a shipyard, despite the family having no boat of their own: a very interesting poem, but thoroughly in the realist, autobiographical-lyrical mode. Then in the groggy afternoon I resumed with “Sorting the Socks of the Dead”:
When they died, we wore their socks
on our hands for the winter. Puppets
with holes, our fingers poked out like ears.
This sudden swerve into strangeness was as delightful as it was unexpected. I read the next two poems, “Rainy Season” and “The Second Year,” in more of a Garcia-Marquezian frame of mind, which turned out to be a good fit for their bleak industrial subjects: a pulp mill shutting down briefly for Christmas and a scrap-metal recycling yard. Then the strangeness returned in full force with “She’s Heard It Said if It Weren’t for the Sky We Would All Go Mad.”
Her mother writes: I fear the gray bowl about us,
the wooden spoon you put to it. You have such clear
eyes: you see the halos of the sun, its drifting, flaming spots.
I want you to let the Black-Eye Galaxy go.
I really like being thrown off-balance like this. If I feel I understand every poem in a collection, I don’t enjoy it as much as if there’s still a solid core of mystery in it.
My five-year-old niece Elanor stopped by after supper (“I like your house, Uncle Dave, ’cause it got lots of books!”) and wanted to help with the typing. Sure, why not?
elanor dad mommy fdgdrygbfjgjgdggh xjhjkhdb dkes utawvbuytq piouyvb dfghfhg ujssfjcyhu fgdfyfchcui87fguyc rthhfhfh hgcnsx sffjhkdjoplrr fnvkvjvobbazrff vgtyrfbvf ggftgbryhgrvtyf vvvwf uccyhgcv5t78fc rtfdghmnc cgfvcgv3erfgudjnc cfvdfrfcrfc dbdczqwzzhn bdug guf yhfxFCJNZSUJVFGIKCRFJV dgfikch vvcvvgggggh nfhfdgvzs fihfivguvvg cujdcuu JK IX
I go back to the opening poem, “Diagnosis,” which is about taking a nap with the windows open. Hmm. Now I can’t help wondering if the unusual length and soundness of my nap might not have been due in part to my reading of this poem in the morning. I even slept through a phone call.
Each window is a gaping mouth without a tongue,
our noises rumbling up from deeper down.
That works as a description of the contents, too. Poems are windows, are they not? And this solid, habitable first collection of poems echoes with the borborygmi of thaw and flood.
(I’m reading a book a day for National Poetry Month, with a special focus on Seven Kitchens Press, a Pennsylvania-based publisher of limited-edition chapbooks. Click on the book cover to go to its page in Open Library.)
3 Replies to “Spring Melt, by Katherine Bode-Lang”
Nice post, Dave. Not only do I now want to read Bode-Lang’s poems, I very much enjoyed being able to have a view (another window) of what it was like for you as the reader of her poems. Also, Elanor rocks.
Another wonderful review, Dave. I especially like that you turned the keyboard over to your niece.
Thanks, Beth and James. I’m trying to keep these “reviews” as idiosyncratic as possible, and I’m glad to hear that doesn’t just strike you as willful eccentricity. If it leaves you wanting to read the book, I guess I’ve succeeded!