Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Joy of the Nearly Old by Rosalind Brackenbury

The Joy of the Nearly Old
By Rosalind Brackenbury
Hanging Loose Press
231 Wyckoff Street
Brooklyn, New York 11217
98 Pages

Reviewed by Dennis Daly

Rosalind Brackenbury delivers a movable feast of poems in her new book, The Joy of the Nearly Old. These are poems of privilege set in Paris, Nice, Key West, New York, England, Peru, and places in between. A sensuous joy of life drives the poetic movement through themes of aging with its anonymity and uncertainty, emotional pain with its dark moments, and death with its hard questions and seeming finality.
The title poem sets the tone. In it the author mourns a dead poet, who succumbed to a weakened heart. She identifies with him and worries, especially since he was her age,

…a poet
my age exactly, who died this year
on a table in a hospital in Texas
while they were jump-starting
his heart…

Later on in the poem Brackenbury lauds the anonymity that aging bestows,

The world can’t see us.
We are too old to be noticed:
nobody watches us pass.
The nearly old live cloaked in privacy.

Age anonymity, Brackenbury shrewdly observes, can also sharpen the senses,

Alone again in the corner of a café,
invisible, crazy with joy. Oh the taste
of coffee! The sunlight
of this morning, this one day.

The Space Between Years, a poem which deals with the nature of aging, serves up a compelling, echoing image painting an in-between time that

Runs deep like a canyon,
a corridor of dreams;
waking, I wonder
who called me.

Of course, it is in the space between years that life and everything else happens,

In the space between years,
oranges in a white bowl,
black walnuts in a basket,
letters on the table,
flowers, red and white
in a jug.

Mid-life runs at a slower pace. In A Man and a Woman and a Blackbird the young are in a hurry; older people try to conserve time,

It’s so much easier now,
not being young and in a hurry.
Nobody waits, nobody notices,
our time is our own.
It takes a lifetime to get here.

The theme of slowing down time combines nicely with the time in-between in a beautiful poem called The Handkerchief,

we pause to hear the quiet movements
of its shallows.

Small, small the difference
between perfection and what is not,
all the difference there is:

when the world stills,
the center holds…

The poem ends with a comforting and stunning image:

the way his hand,
dragonfly over water,
nearly skims mine.

Very, very nice.
In Vert Galant, another poem delving into the mystery of age, the poet returns to the Paris that she had visied in her younger years and wonders how time changes reality,

I sit on a green bench
and wonder, is it the same
willow fingering the water

and am I the same
girl in love with it all,
who said, one day she’d buy lunch
for herself in a Paris restaurant
not counting the cost
and has just done so?

The poet in her poem Goodbye paints a picture of her father at an advanced age handling his years with almost an athletic grace,

He quit at eighty-six
angry with age, annoyed at each small ache;
stumbled a little on the tennis court but dealt
that half-blind lethal serve, the way

old Chinese painters draw their single curve
of black on white, the brush a thousandth
time trailing its ink exact as grace…

My Parents in the Rose Garden presents a near idyllic remembrance of the poet’s parents. It is the way we all want to remember our mothers and fathers, but only a few actually do. This poet is not only privileged, she is lucky. Her poem works because she shares the joy of this in an honest, unselfish way,

They walk a rectangle, hand in hand,
looking at the roses.

They pause to look, talk, I see
him smile, she straightens
her spine to be up to it, to him,
to their continuing daily
stepping out.

Forever now, or for as long as I
shall live, I see them…

There are also some very memorable love poems in this collection. One of them, Ferry Across the James River, stands out. It creates an interesting metaphor with love happening on a ferry between two banks. The point, of course, is the intense and temporary nature of love. These lines are pitch-perfect,

It wasn’t a dream, but now I see this
again and again, our brief life
together between two banks:
back there the quiet beach
where we searched for scallop shells
and driftwood to carry home,
before us, soon, the landing place
and above us the gulls, their feathers
fiery as angels.’

Three of the poems in this book are essentially anti-war poems and I think that they work less well than most of the others. But I’m quibbling: these kinds of poems are very difficult to write, especially in anger. The poet rages,

the boats rise and fall like breath.
This morning, this Sunday morning,
we heard Falluja was taken.
A thousand dead; they called them all

You can’t, however, argue with her rhetoric and logic.
My favorite poem in this well balanced book is Who Has Seen Our Original Face. It portrays a mother’s first eye contact with her child after birth. Here’s the image:

Startled into air,
your first stare after birth, for me.

That first sharp glance
and afterwards, each time we met,
the recognition.
Is this love, could this stunned meeting
possibly become love?

Poetry lovers, who seek calm reassurance in this troubling life and timeless (if not pain free) joy from the written word will like this book a lot.

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