Norton. Oct. 2011. c.96p. ISBN 9780393080629. $24.95. POETRY
This second collection (after Halflife), which closely follows O'Rourke's The Long Goodbye, a well-received memoir about her mother's death, skillfully explores the desolate country of illness and grief in a tone touched by sadness, anger, and frustration. And, perhaps, hope: "I was born/ with a spirit, like you./ I have woken, you see,/ and I wish to be/ made new." The book opens with O'Rourke's first memory, then moves from diagnosis of her mother's illness to death, its aftermath, and the realization that she is powerless unless she aims, metaphorically, to embody the country in which she is the ruler. The narrator considers global mayhem as she comes to her own restoration of spirit, but the poems aren't simply biographical; the lines are carefully shaped, the images often startling in their simplicity ("cell phones buzz like digital cicadas"). The image of ice—and the suffocating feeling of being trapped under it, with the impenetrable, translucent light above—pervades the entire collection. As O'Rourke works to find wholeness, she considers that "[h]uman emotions" might be "clichéd./ But they still exist." The penultimate poem comes full circle, until finally "You can step out of/ violence and into// sky."
VERDICT Essential for all readers of contemporary poetry.
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