I recently discovered a new poet that I love, Danusha Laméris, author of “The Moons of August” (Autumn House, 2014) and “Bonfire Opera” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020). These poems are sensual and lyrical; the poet is passionately present in the fleeting moment “listening intently with the passionate attention of the body” (“Stone”, from “Bonfire”). And they are also elegiacs, haunted by impermanence and past sorrow, always aware that “the gods do not like to distribute too much honey” (“Luck”, “Bonfire”).
Among the pleasures of these volumes are those of imagination and invention. Laméris writes of “What Trees Dream Of” (“Moons”): “This one thinks, let me be the slender bow / violin. “The Dead” (“Moons”), arrive in the afterlife as “the first guests at a cocktail party” and “glasses of ether”. They toast to the “guest of honor / who hasn’t arrived yet” and is “about to grate / her last breath of air / before stepping out of her skin suit / in a gown ‘stars”. The “fictitious characters” (“Moons”) are imagined escaping the “twists and turns” of the mind of their author. “Anna Karenina sits down[s] in a restaurant, / reading the newspaper as a waitress / serving a cheeseburger. The poet asks:
“Right, if you could?”
Get out of your own story,
lean against a door
Five and Dime, sipping your coffee… ”
In a poem on the comfort of “inventory, / as futile as it may be”, the poet imagines that God counts (among other things) “the number of breaths we have taken in the night” and “counts the eyelashes that We are pulling cells / through the dark galaxies of our bodies.
There’s another kind of fun in recognizing yourself and knowing how you can behave in particular circumstances, even when you’re not quite proud of it – in short, in honest accounting, the truth. In “What I Didn’t Do” (“Moons”), the poet admits “I never remembered her, the woman / with the two babies born as mine”. His were “[g]girls who couldn’t crawl or talk, I could barely smile.
“I did what the villagers have been doing for centuries,
when they run away from the widow,
the one-eyed man.
Hadn’t lightning struck her twice?
I turned my back, kept the chance
to be added to mine.
I have experienced in my own life the truth of what Laméris calls “the hilarity after death” in “Dressing for the Funeral” (“Bonfire”) –
“… the week after my brother shot himself,
his wife and I fell on the bed laughing
because she couldn’t decide what to wear for the big day,
and asked me, ‘Am I going for sexy or Amish?’ I told her sexy.
I love the tension of feelings that enriches this poem and so many others:
“I don’t even remember what we were wearing. Only that we were both fabulous
crying over that gaping hole in the ground.
There is often a special kind of pleasure in the final turn of the poems, the moment when the trajectory of the poem stops, the moment, sometimes, of the greatest involvement, when readers or listeners can audibly sigh or sigh. indoor, or even gasp. “Silence” (“Lunes”) describes one of the poet’s deaths that she counts “on both hands”, who, when he fell ill, could not endure the silence and would have hated the landscape of the life of the poet, “the field shrouded in fog / only a handful / songs of birds. But she, as so often “to sit down[s] and listen “, and hear, beyond the” tick of the clock “, the” rustling of the nuthatch “,” a silence / so virgin “,
“that if I hold my breath
here they are again,
shy deer back
at the edge of the forest.
This last metaphor, so rich in implication that it is almost unparaphrasable, is stunning.
The last of the pleasures I want to mention here (although hardly the last of the pleasures in these poems) is the pleasure of observing what a poet does with his internalized sense of another poet. In “The Grass” (“Bonfire”), Laméris strikingly takes up Whitman’s ode to grass in “Song of Myself”, echoing some of her rhythms and questions, seeing her and raising her one or various. She, who wants to “love the world”, recoils, because “goodness is brought back, without mercy, into the ground and covered with grass”, and because “most tragedies are not an accident, / but a consequence of the error. -body in the center of a target. Grass “covers” the body of her brother who committed suicide, and is “composed of his body”, and is therefore her “brother” in which she feels “his patience, his tranquility / his goodness – as if they were her perfume. In a final Whitman trick, she addresses the grass directly:
“Dear Grass, dear
Curling Fronds, Dear Little Twists of Green, it’s me, your sister.
I don’t blame you. I just wanna sit with you and stroke your windy hair.
Judy Kronenfeld, Distinguished Lecturer in the Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside, is the author of four books and two collections of poetry. “Groaning and Singing”, his fifth collection, will be published by FutureCycle Press in February.