Tethered to Stars: Poems

Milkweed. Mar. 2021. 104p. ISBN 9781571315342. pap. $16.
As a poet, physician, and translator, Joudah (The Earth in the Attic) is uniquely capable of crafting language that moves fluidly between lyrical abstraction and clinical precision. The effect is something that could fairly be called scientific impressionism, and his latest work reflects his clearest application of this particular style. Using the language of astronomy, astrology, mathematics, and biology to reckon with the fundament of human existence, this new collection retains the poet’s thematic preoccupations with death but here offers more expansive observation on the tricky business of living: “My lifespan doesn’t clarify my consciousness./ And my revolution is in hours.” Amid the headier ruminations, Joudah also leaves plenty of space for emotional heft: “Sandra Brown, Texas” offers reflection on the eponymous tragedy (“On the date/ your breath no longer tethered your body, you became/ a Cancer, proliferative, this nation’s sign”), while a later poem, with the fittingly parable-like title “The Old Lady and the House,” ably illustrates Joudah’s concerns with humanity’s sometimes beautiful, often contentious relationship with notions of the cosmos and its governing inevitability. If the technical jargon is occasionally ugly off the tongue and takes Joudah’s singular linguistic alchemy a step too far, it’s a minor complaint amid the collection’s immense power.
VERDICT Like the stars its title invokes, Joudah’s latest is mysterious and ruminative, a challenging work perhaps ill suited for poetry novices but offering plenty of dark beauty for those willing to probe its cryptic depths.
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