Thursday, August 9, 2018

Shadow Light by Denise Low


Poet and poetry instructor Denise Low has pared words down to their essence in Shadow Light, an award-winning collection from Red Mountain Press, which she kindly sent me to review.

These highly compressed poems begin with “Eyes,” whose lines baffled me at first reading and demanded a closer look. Having experienced blue circles around lights before cataract surgery, my eyes soon focused on:

“A fourth circle of Paradise - ultra-violets
- opens to hummingbirds - cataract patients.”

[Note: On the actual pages, no dashes occur in the typesetting but spaces, which my blog program removes with confusion ensuing, thus my insertion of the occasional dash.]

Even poems which seem clear at first reading require another look to see the deeper subject at play. For instance, in the playful but thought-provoking poem “Ceilings:”

“I look up just as the Louvre’s ceiling Icarus
falls from his father’s arms forward
painted wings behind him.
He plummets into
my gravity-squared
marble floor tile.”


The same poem also gives us a glimpse of the poet's skill in handling metaphor and descriptive detail, for example:

“Chandeliers dangling are cocktail glasses brimming effervescence.”

In the title poem, “Shadow Light,” we see how a “Birch forest shapes ragged darkness.” Then:

“Past shadows, where light glimmers
its celestial yellow, chiaroscuro,
my dead sister appears, back lit….”


When the following words appear, however, we can’t be sure if the living poet or deceased relative says:

“Don’t you know you are in Heaven?”

Perhaps, both give voice to those words.

An intriguing voice of Native America especially appeals to me. For example, in “Naming Willis Bird,” poetic lines call on each aspect of the Winds:

“Winds of the South: Here is Bird. Treat him well.
Winds of the South: You are good for my aching bones.”


And,

“West Winds: This is the direction of sunset and darkness.
You balance the sunrise. I know you as the place of dreams.”

In “Chicory Afternoon,” the poet speaks of a porcupine as “a nimble fat man’s shadow,” and in “Where the Dead Go:”

“Snow petals ghost
the northern wind.”


The last poem, “Stomp Dance, Wyandotte County,” invites or returns us to ancestral abodes where:

“The lead man lifts his black hat and calls from the center.

I wait for the tail-end of the man-woman procession. Lead women
are shell shakers. Double-time steps rustle turtle-shell rattled tied to
shins.

Men sing and sing loud. Women step-step hard. The inner circle
might turn sideways to the fire.

My grandfather and grandmother lived on Lenape land near this
spot. Their footprints remain in the ground.”


Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

Shadow Light, paperback


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