Of the numerous poetry books I’ve read this year, Ruth Thompson’s Woman with Crows (Saddle Road Press, 2013) is the most personally meaningful to me. I just turned 42, undeniably middle-aged, and my son starts preschool this fall. All around me, it seems, are warnings and laments that youth is fleeting, and we must cling to each moment lest it pass us by unnoticed. Woman with Crows is an antidote to fear.
This poetry collection, earthy yet mythical, celebrates the spiritual wisdom of the Crone, the woman with crows (and crows’ feet). Because of her conscious kinship with nature, the speaker of these poems embraces the changes that our artificial culture has taught us to dread. Fatness recurs as a revolutionary symbol of joy: a woman’s body is not her enemy, and scarcity is not the deepest truth. For her, the unraveling of memory and the shedding of possessions are not a story of decline but a fairy tale of transformation. One could say that, like Peter Pan, she expects that death will be a very big adventure!
If this all sounds terribly sentimental and “uplifting”, don’t worry. She’s not a sweet, neutered old granny. There are fireworks here, and snakes, and “ooze shining and blooming and with sex in it.”
Under purest ultramarine the raised
goblets of trees overrun with gold.
We should be reeling drunk and portly as groundhogs
through these windfalls of russet, citron, bronze, chartreuse.
Everywhere color pools like butter, like oil of ripe nuts,
like piles of oranges under a striped tent.
Oh, let us be greedy of eyeball,
pigs scuffling in this gorgeous swill!
Let us cud this day
and spend the winter ruminant.
Let us write fat poems, and be careless.
Let us go bumbling about in wonder, legs
coated with goldenrod and smelling of acorns.
Let us be unctuous with scarlet and marigold,
larder them here, behind our foreheads
to glow in the brain’s lamps
in the time of need.
Each tree a sun!
Let us throw away caution,
emblazon our retinas
with the flare and flame of it
so that in the unleavened winter
this vermilion spill, this skyfall,
these oils of tangerine, smears of ochre and maroon
will heat a spare poem, dazzle the eye’s window,
feed us like holy deer on the blank canvas of snow.
Travel Instructions for Elmwood Avenue
You leave the sepia light of the tea restaurant,
lapsang and peony, earth and green twig,
continuo of quiet human voices.
Outside is rain, fat frying, damp exhaust, sputum,
spit of tires on a wet street, brakes tuned
to the pulse of streetlights: green, amber, red, green.
You blunder, glasses fringed with rainbows,
until your own hands swim out before you—
greeny in the headlights, strange as ectoplasm.
Light laps from shattered planes of reflection,
emerges and re-emerges from sheeting brilliance.
Dimension becomes dimension, a turned fan.
Now darkness hums like a bowed string,
anchored somewhere you cannot see,
one end floating here in the spinning world
and what has always sung from around the corner
is no longer apart from you—
it is here, upon you—that blaze of tenderness!