I wanted to give you
something of comfort:
words like an armoire
smelling of talc, lined
with lace, concealing
a ruby bracelet, tortoise
shell comb. Words
that melt on the tongue
a communion wafer.
wheaten and whispering of salvation…
(from the poem “Why Write” by Judith Valente)
I read Judith Valente’s Discovering Moons twice, once on an exercise treadmill in a busy gym and once in the quiet of my office at home.
I’m not sure which location was better. The office allowed me to speak poems aloud, and hear the sounds and the flow of the sounds. Reading on the treadmill allow me to blot out the noise of seven other treadmills, five television screens, numerous other pieces of equipment and the woman on the treadmill next to me who was talking on her cell phone about various physical ailments.
Thank you, Judith Valente. Your poems pulled me into a world of love and loss, pain and gain, the everyday and the unusual, and the everyday made unusual. And the bonus was that I didn’t hear the cell phone conversation going on next to me.
The poem from the collection excerpted above, “Why Write,” brought me to Piety Street in New Orleans, the street where my grandmother lived for years before her final illness and death. She lived in a “shotgun” duplex, with each room succeeding each other from the front porch to the small patch of backyard. The house, like most old houses, had no closets, so armoires were mandatory. They smelled of cedar and talc, and were lined with lace or something that look to a child’s eye like lace. She had a tortoise shell comb, too. And a clawfoot bathtub.
I digress into personal detail because that’s what all of Valente’s poems, published in 2009, do – pull you into both the poet’s personal world and your own. The poems move across landscapes (both geographical and interior), across emotions, and across generations.
From “Central Illinois, Late October:”
The season spills out its fistful of playing marbles:
millefiores, sunbursts, oxbloods, caneswirls.
Bronzed leaves hang:
gnarled hands emptied of pennies. Death smell hangs,
moist fomenting cider in tight-chested ground.
I steady myself for the cardboard colors to come:
Dun, amber, sepia sweeping over ungrazed prairie.
Saturday. The afternoon drive past
Dwight Odell Pontiac Towanda
Familiar markers rise
like white crosses for the roadside dead…
I’ve driven that part of Illinois, and about that time of the year, and it is much like driving to mid-Missouri from St. Louis. The same smells, the same colors, almost the same prairies. Even the same familiar markers, some of which actually are white crosses to memorialize the roadside dead.
I’m going to read Discovering Moons a third time, perhaps in a sunny outside spot shielded from the winds on a cold day. And I will find something new, and something that is about my own experience. It’s that kind of collection, and those kinds of poems.