Mary closed the slim volume of poetry and leaned back against the stiff cushions of her couch. She never was one to read much poetry, except occasionally Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare, whose works had stayed with her all these years since high school. What was it Dickinson once wrote in a letter? “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” And that was how Mary felt after reading Doll God by Luanne Castle.
Mary gazed at the cover, an antique doll, face down amongst some weedy flowers, as if it had been tossed by a child and then forgotten. Maggie, her cousin and a former English major, had given Mary the book that afternoon. “Take your time with these poems,” she had cautioned. “Some of them make you feel like you’re falling. There’s a sadness in them, but like a forlorn kind of sadness. Like missing the childhood you can never get back, or that you never had.”
“Gee, thanks, Maggie.” Mary had watched her cousin let herself out of the house, a knowing smile on her face. And then a wink just before the door closed. It was a dreary day, gray and wet and cold. The perfect day for a pot of hot tea, a woolen lap blanket, and a book. Not necessarily poetry, Mary had thought, but she picked up Doll God anyway. The wonderful thing about poetry collections was that you could just pick up and start reading wherever you wanted, unlike a novel where you tended to start at the first page, not in the middle. So Mary opened the book at a random page and began to read.
Now the room was dark except for the reading lamp. Mary hadn’t even moved to close the drapes and she sat staring at her reflection in the picture window.
Of all the poems she had to read first: “Calculating Loss.” It had given her chills at the realization, the recognition of the presence of loss. A missing chair. One less car in the garage. A half-empty jar of pebbles that, to the poet, seemed overflowing. Things missing should imply a vacuum, empty space. But Mary thought about those first few horrible months after Christopher was killed. How long it took her to remove his clothes from their walk-in closet. And how she couldn’t bring herself to hang anything there for she felt there was no room. The closet was full with her loss.
And then “Marriage Doll” and that exquisite image of the Hakate marriage doll with it’s hand upraised but empty, juxtaposed to a husband, flesh-and-bone, in the same pose but not empty-handed. Marriage Doll: 1 of 2, the poet wrote.
And so many other poems that evoked feelings in Mary that she couldn’t quite articulate. She didn’t feel sad after reading Doll God, but she felt changed somehow. Like someone pointing out the homeless guy huddled in a doorway on a dark, cold, rainy night, and then telling her a story of the man’s childhood (“Vagrant”). Like reading notes from someone’s diary about a day in October in the southwest and the shift in the habits of both wild and domestic creatures (“Sonoran October”). She is changed. She knows something, feels something new. The words are in the poetry so she really doesn’t need to find her own.
Daylight burns brighter, scrape
deteriorates into amputation until day
is here and there is no yesterday.
From “Calculating Loss”:
Every day the world subtracts from itself and nothing
From “American Girl”:
I am the wait.
By the time Mary finished reading the poems, she did feel as if the top of her head had been taken off. But, as if she were in a Frida Kahlo painting, she also felt images and words tumble from the half-empty but overflowing cup that was once her head. She gazed at her reflection in the black glass of the picture window and saw dolls and children and feral cats staring back at her. She felt cold and knew that no fire or freshly brewed pot of tea would warm her. She had just read poetry.
And now, dear Reader, if you would like to have that Dickinsonian experience of reading poetry, do go now and purchase a copy of Luanne Castle’s poetry collection, Doll God. And, while you’re at it, visit her blog at Writer Site where Luanne writes about poetry but also about memoir. She is writing her own memoir, which I can’t wait to read once it’s published, and her blog often features book reviews and guest bloggers. It’s never half-empty, but always overflowing. She also has a beautiful website to showcase her writing: http://www.luannecastle.com/
I know you will enjoy her works as much as I do.