In her marvelously titled, first full-length poetry collection Delicate Machinery Suspended, Anne M. Doe Overstreet writes in a brief essay preceding the first section of poems, "I know the smell of rain phutting into the dust like some people know the smell of baking bread." Call your attention to that unusual word phutting, because in Overstreet's sharp observations of people, places, and things, her description is anything but ordinary. A woman is "resonant as a struck cello"; a ghost or lost soul is a "haint"; a seed's covering is an "aril that purples the tongue"; a neon sign "meteors across the room"; the Metro "hunches north"; rain "descends" in "silver shafts"; moths become "[s]hivering somnambulists / baffled by glass"; and an orange cat's eye is "a bioluminescent blending with the fitful night / outside".
As might be expected in the work of a poet who makes her home in the wet Pacific Northwest, water, especially in the form of rain, is a motif in many poems: in "Dog Night", with its "rush, a roar, / hard to tell the river from the rain"; in "The Sun Raises Its Axe", in which "a pale rain / returning for another listless winter day / dulls the edge which / glances off the wrist / of an idle woman". We see in "Domestic" how "[t]he water follows your feet, sea graves // springing up in your footsteps, leaving no path / secret" and the ocean, its voice "cold", "does not call on you to witness what it knows", instead "dying / on a foreign shore in a language you would not recognize." Elsewhere, as in "Surviving the Open Heart", we hear how a woman "will sink beneath the water of the pool / into a silence as blue as the heart when it stops." Water — how it sounds, what it looks like, where it goes, what it does — figures also in such poems as "Prelude to a Drowning", "How Water Folds Over", "If It Doesn't Rain Soon", "Whalefall", and "Late Night in Neon".
Overstreet is a vivid visualist who, in the words of Galway Kinnell, is adept at "making something physical out of words":
[. . .] You lean out
over the swell, caught by blue distance, and when
the cold finds its way onto the deck, plunder a pocket
for an orange and break the body into crescent-shaped
pieces brought in a wooden cage over the pass
from their God-hung green night. Teeth tear membrane
as the coastline recedes [. . . .]
~ from "North on the Illahee Ferry"
[. . .] The narrator has told us what to expect:
a whale carcass has come to rest on an ocean shelf,
an extended feast for the cusk eel and hadal snailfish.
[. . .] the skeleton, a keeled-over ship-frame
that the current sucks and strokes [. . . .]
~ from "Whalefall"
She also is capable of leaving us moved by the profoundly felt and "larger word" she leaves on the page:
If in the detonation of seed, a dandelion,
before it fathers a lawn of sun-headed children,
if at a gesture of wind or the puckered
wish of a girl it undoes itself, then we
in our turn can perhaps be forgiven
a moment of abandon before we part.
And if the pricking berry cane begins to bow
just as it reaches an excess of fruit,
after stretching indiscriminately up the fence
in devotion to the source of light, should it
be possible to remain mute before need,
desire spiraling and seeking?
If air in its extremity visibly ascends
off the hot hood of a blue Ford, if a tat
of flies spins into ecstasy in a draft
from the open window, then the tongue
curls to the mouth's bruised roof,
the body rises also on knees and an elbow.
~ "The Logic of Prayer Rising"
Overstreet's collection number 58 attentively crafted poems. Her publisher is T.S. Poetry Press*.______________________________________
* T.S. Poetry Press also is the publisher of my collection, Neruda's Memoirs: Poems. I was not familiar with Overstreet's work before purchasing her book.
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