Friday, June 19, 2015
Bird in the Hand Poems by Lianne Spidel
Bird in the Hand
Poems by Lianne Spidel
Dos Madres Press
Review by Dennis Daly
A luscious elegance secrets itself in the mnemonic tableaux of Lianne Spidel. She lays out her poetry collection, Bird in the Hand, in easily accessible compositions that belie curiously colored insights into the human condition. Not only does Spidel contemplate the complexities of what she knows best, but she seems to imbue everyday events and connections with numinous significance. These poems narrate ordinary lives into being again and again, while reveling in individual value. The word “uplifting” comes to mind.
Before There Were Barbies, Spidel’s paean to long ago childhood innocence, opens the book by establishing the Cinderella bona fides of the poet’s persona. Dolls were at the bottom of the hand-me-down chain, but prized nevertheless. Society allowed little girls to be little girls during the World War II era, at least on the home front, safe from the world’s insanity. Spidel describes those comforting times this way,
… our hems were turned down twice
before our mothers cut up our dresses
for doll clothes. Somehow
there was always a doll for a birthday
or Christmas, certain as a ration book
or a terrifying newsreel at a Saturday matinee.
While faraway children starved
and the faraway world blew up and fell apart,
our grandmothers knitted miniature sweaters.
Even now we cannot part
with our childhood dolls, loved so tenderly
within our years of being safe
In the poem Godspeed, written in homage to John Glenn, the astronaut and later politician, and his wife Annie, the poet provides the reader with a commentary on love and the human need to pioneer, to push the envelope. The juxtaposition of daring on the world stage and the quiet adventure of domestic life work together quite nicely. It’s worth noting that Annie, a hero in her own right, engaged the public in support of her husband in spite of a difficult battle with a speech impediment. Spidel’s persona speaks of her own son in this context,
… my black-haired son
bundled in his cart, caught up
in the first of wordless dreams
he would never learn to compromise,
while an Ohio-born traveler
circled our adventure with his own.
When we met him years later,
stumping Ohio in the seventies,
he crinkled his eyes and said
I looked like Annie. She told me
they ate by candlelight every night,
even if it was only hot dogs.
Not all the poems in this collection are narrative. One of my favorites is a lyric entitled River Song for the Grandmother I Never Knew. Both a celebration of life and meditation on family connection, the poem draws the reader into life’s daring, its dance toward forever. Spidel internalizes an Irish river and launches her piece magically,
Full of salmon and the music of mad fiddles,
the Corrib River churns, rushing the tide,
defying the margins of its banks
with wild rhythms of forgotten songs.
The Corrib River churns, rushing the tide.
When it leaps to crescendo
with wild rhythms of forgotten songs,
Echoes of dancing feet ring along the waves.
When it leaps to crescendo,
fiddles crowd and clash, racing over stones.
Echoes of dancing feet ring along the waves,
beating out loss and sorrow, fury and joy.
Fiddles crowd and clash, racing over stones.
My grandmother’s feet come flying…
Mortality’s moment very rarely mimics the sparking of great souls. Spidel describes the deathbed scene of a woman known to her persona in a piece entitled Comh Bhron Dhuith (Gaelic for Rest in Peace). Due to the family’s attention everything seems appropriate, arranged just so. The food sits prepared. The table ready to be set. The plants watered. Arrangements had been made to dress the woman in a white dress and paint her nails clear before burial. The poet considers another, more dramatic, scenario,
I wanted them to bury you upright
in a sandpit like a Celtic queen,
spear in hand, facing the enemy
wearing your good gold rings, a cross
set with jewels on your mutilated
breast, your hair still growing,
displacing sand tendril by tendril
red flames spilling the heat
of your living at the core of the earth.
Penultimate poems have a certain transitory charm. So does Snowfall at Solstice, a lovely sestina by Spidel that brings heaven’s landscape to earth along with recognizable angelic company. It’s as if the footfalls of poetic craft are absorbed in life’s snowpack and the resulting silence spreads effortlessly outward. Consider these lines,
learned ski trails curving into night
up the Gatineau, and every path wound
its way through some adventure, wound
magically toward one who would shepherd
you through cities on starless nights,
whose homecoming you awaited at windows,
who carried your furred boots for you
through seventy winters of snow.
He will find his way in winging snow,
white-haired, a woolen scarf wound
at the neck, coming from darkness to you
stooped but sure-footed as a shepherd,
an overcoated angel reflected in the window,
stamping from his shoes the snow, the night.
Alexander Pope once said, “True wit is nature to advantage dress’d/ What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d. Lianne Spidel apparently got the message. Her poems delight.