Three poets grace the pages of the latest issue of the Missouri Review. Jenny Molberg starts out with “Fourth State of Matter.” “The day Big Tex burned, it began in the throat — / an utterance that caught fire.” Is Big Tex a relative, a friend of the narrator’s father? We know we are at the fair, but the poet does not hand us the full context, preferring to make us work it out with other clues: “whose 75-gallon hat // mooned over the crowd.” And bingo, if we are paying enough attention, we realize Big Tex must be a statue, or puppet, speaking to the crowd through a loudspeaker in the throat, which catches fire. Why is this a moment worthy of a poem? The narrator searches for her father: “scanned the dune of faces…”and reaches some sort of epiphany. “Later, I saw that my father’s life wasn’t whole // but scattered, and didn’t really belong to me.” So this is a moment when the isolation becomes real, when her father’s grief becomes real for her. She is growing up. Nicely done.
I also like her poem, “Storm Coming,” a short, understated work, again about the narrator and her father. “In his face, // I look for my own…” “The sky swells like an oath.” The approaching storm counterbalances the human interactions. “Dad, he’ll say, how about… we’ll go and get some of those peaches…?” “The storm is birth and death // in only minutes.” Over and over, this author breaks up ideas not just between lines, but between stanzas, emphasizing the gaps, the emptiness in her character’s lives, the distances they seem to feel between each other. A work to revisit, and to contemplate.
Noah Warren gives us the poem “Milkweed.” “The summer morning, / the exploding front, the rain / a wall falling.” Wow, tricky to come up with an original image about the rain. “One stalk of milkweed…bitten, blind thing, on and on, / by the swarm of bullets.” It brings to mind, for me, the war that is nature, each living thing struggling to survive, eat, make its own way in a battle zone. An interesting metaphor, deftly handled. And I love the metaphor he uses to end this poem.
The final poet is Regina DiPerna. In “The Fortune Our Bodies told,” she starts, “First, pattern: one whisper-thin / hook of material threading to / the next.” And indeed, at times our bodies do seem thin and fragile. “the clockwork // of a heart…a fistful of red clay / contracting and expanding / around each damp, unsteady hour.” Boy, that’s cool writing. I like the conceit of the poem, a series of metaphors about each aspect of the body. “The blood, an army of ants…”
And I love her poem, “I’m Not,” a declaration, a manifesto of independence: “not hanging my head / in the doorway…like ivy growing quiet over your walls. I’m not a canvas for you…I’m not midnight and smashed dishes…” A passionate work, that touches us and makes us cheer for the narrator, and to hope for her.
Peace in poetry,
P M F Johnson