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A House of Many Windows by Donna Vorreyer
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, The Poetry Cheerleader
Sundress Publications, 2013
Perfect bound, 73 pp., $14
It is terrible when a poet’s natural material is the inability to conceive a child. That grief is again in the center of A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013), by Donna Vorreyer, as it was in her chapbook, Womb/Seed/Fruit (Finishing Line Press, 2010). But it is wonderful when the poet can bear the weight of such grief in poems as rich and honest as these—and also wonderful that a child enters her life and she raises him, many windows opening.
This Robert Louis Stevenson quotation serves as an epigraph to the book, containing its title: “The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.” I saw the red-light district of a European city when I read this, feeling a little ashamed of myself, both to leap to that memory and because I felt perfectly natural in the red-lit window of wanting to be loved. I identified all the more, then, when I read the prose poem, “How You Become a Mother,” which begins, “You are a little ashamed that one of your first thoughts is I could have been a slut in high school, all of those boys who wanted to touch you, fear of pregnancy trumping every primal urge, and you wonder what it would have been like.” Vorreyer’s generosity undoes the word “slut.” Her “primal urge” takes away judgment. I felt welcomed into the large house of her hospitality; in these poems, she forgives her pregnant friends their constant complaints, her young mother friends their oblivious comments or tardy apologies; she understands that we cannot understand her ongoing grief. And then, in the poem, “Many Houses, Many Windows,” offers us a way to understand:
But it is not just my house.
Think of the doors you have walked through and thought
I’m home. The windows you have opened near your bed
on a hot night. The lives you would have led
had one of them been nailed or painted shut.
Indeed, Vorreyer’s House of Many Windows, straightforward and metaphorical in comfortable alternation, avoids and even undoes that cliché, “When God shuts a door, he opens a window.” She’s making sure we see the complexity of it all, the multiplicity, the alternate or parallel or side-by-side lives here, the humanness. Back to that prose poem, “How You Become a Mother”:
…You sit in the social worker’s office, and she asks you what sort of child you would like to adopt. The only answer you can think of is human.
Given the complexity of feeling and thought in these poems, I appreciate the simplicity of language—the best vessel for what is hard to carry. I love the opening of “Upon the Second Attempt, Whole Foods” (a title that places us in a grocery store and in the middle of a fruitless yearning stage of life):
Care for the container and the fruit will not bruise,
my grandmother would repeat, her own picking basket
smooth and neat, all stray points cut or sanded away.
Immediately I can see that basket, I can touch it! I can hear the wisdom in that grandmother’s voice, I can hear her firm, soft tone. I can almost see her, a ghost beside the woman in the Whole Foods aisle who also walks, ghostlike herself, through an orchard with her grandmother.
Nothing softens the hard fall at the end of this poem, though. The basket becomes “a nest woven to impress
so that any fruit, having spent all summer ripening,
without a blemish to call its own, would wait
for hands to cradle it instead of falling, hard
and half-formed from the branch into the yard.
I hear the thud of that fruit. I feel it in my heart, and my belly. And then I turn to the next poem, ready to take on whatever she can take on, because she has fashioned it for me, a sturdy basket.
Kathleen Kirk is a writer whose work appears online and in print in Confrontation, Menacing Hedge, Poetry East, Spillway, Waccamaw, and elsewhere. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, most recently Interior Sculpture: poems in the voice of Camille Claudel (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and Nocturnes (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2012), and the poetry editor for Escape Into Life. She blogs about poetry, reading, and life at Wait! I Have a Blog?!
Tell God I Don't Exist by Timmy Reed
Reviewed by C. L. Bledsoe, The Lit Reporter
Underrated Animals Press, 2013
Perfect bound, 95 pp., $12
I first met Timmy Reed at an open mic and reading series called You’re Allowed, sponsored by Artichoke Haircut literary journal. He could always be counted on to liven up the atmosphere, and I actually heard him read a few selections from this book on occasion. Reed has become a fixture around Baltimore’s reading series because of his energy, but also because of his profound literary style. His first collection smacks of magical realism but with an urban focus as he recreates the streets of Baltimore. “The Earth Was a Living Thing” sets the tone to open the collection. Reed describes the denizens of the Earth caring for the sores that develop on the Earth’s surface and living symbiotically. At first glance, the story seems strangely distant from some of the grittier pieces set in a modern Baltimore, but coming back to it after reading the collection, it becomes clear that Reed is saying something about our connection, or lack thereof, with the planet. The Earth that these characters align themselves with doesn’t seem to even know they’re there. Reed describes the religion these denizens practice, which
…did not produce an explanation or provide answers, only questions and doubt… Doubts were our only comfort, all of us tiny and terrified of what we might already know. Doubts were our version of faith, a way of supposing a meaning for life or pretending we might not all die completely, even the earth that held us.
Here, Reed has gotten to the core of what it is to be human.
Reed has a way of finding truth in exaggerated reality. “Wet Sugar” is one of my favorite stories, and is one of the longest among these mostly-flash pieces. It describes a city, waiting for a flood, that clings to its worship of the dead: “They said someone was building a boat,” Reed tells us. “They said they were building it to save all the bones.” Children find solace in candy. Reed’s profound voice is revealed in lines like this description of the narrator’s mother who, “pretended life was not beautiful, but pretty,” as a defense against her own fears.
Although I enjoy Reed’s flash pieces--like “Water into Dust,” which deals with a troll PO officer, or “After the Storms,” which follows a family hiding quietly from a tornado while standing outside in their driveway--his longer stories are much more compelling and reminiscent of Amber Sparks or shorter works by Gabriel García Márquez. “Bioluminescence,” for example, a story about a sick mermaid discovered during a boat tour, smacks of García Márquez. Upon discovering this fish-woman, who is constantly throwing up on herself and is quite possibly dying, the tour group makes a list of possible actions, ranging from taking the mermaid to a hospital, putting her in an aquarium, taking her to the casinos, or feeding her rum punch. Here, he reflects humanness in this strange situation. Really, Reed’s characters are just looking for beauty, just like anybody else. The irony, of course, is that they often experience a beauty we would find enthralling if we were in their situations. This is part of the point he’s making, I think, that there’s beauty in our own lives that we miss for various reasons. But we should pay attention. There’s a beauty in all life, and there’s beauty in connection. As Reed tells us, “To wave at someone and have them wave back makes me feel alive. There’s nothing more fragile than being alive.”
C. L. Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel Sunlight; three poetry collections, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online. Another, The Man Who Killed Himself in My Bathroom, is available here. His story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writer's Award. His story “The Scream” was selected as a Notable Story of 2011. His nonfiction piece “Thesis” was nominated for 2012 Best of the Net. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.
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