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A Map to the Next World by William Pitt Root

2000; 138 pp. $22.95. W.W. Norton. This is in many ways the best collection yet from one of our strongest poets-and one of the tiny handful who, faithful to Rilke's most difficult directive, have never raised a shield of irony or cynicism to prevent a direct hit to the heart. Her recurrent themes include the traumas of love and fear. Both personal and political, she emphasizes the function of courage for keeping the spirit honest and vital. Her fourteen-part anchor poem, "Returning from the Enemy," unblinkingly explores the complexities by which abuse, alcoholism, and an ultimate grace are braided into an umbilicus no rational understanding can sever. It reads like a hymn, like a song of praise, with all the lurid ambiguities of moaning heard through a motel wall. Alternating riffs of free verse and prose, keeping the constant ground beat of emotions taut, she obliquely advances the narrative. The force of her clarity is startling, the power of her rhythms, disarming. Disarming is one thing Joy Harjo is always about, turning even the most heartbreaking demolition into a difficult truth/beauty fusion, at once grave and ecstatic.

Read her.

The Ceremony

All my life I have entered into the ceremony from this door, toward the east into red and yellow leaves.

It has always felt lonely though there were always messengers, like the praying mantis on my door   when I opened it this morning. Or the smell of pancakes when there were no pancakes, coffee when there was no coffee.

I walked through the house we had built together from scraps of earth and tenderness, through the aftermath of loving too hard.  You were showering to get ready for war; I was sticky from late storms of grief and went to look for poetry.  Each particle of event stutters with electricity, binds itself to coherence. Like the trees turning their heads

to watch the human participants in these tough winds turning to go, as they continue to send roots for water making a language for beauty   out of any means possible though they are dying. Everyone is dying. I am I am, deliberately and slowly of this failure to correctly observe the ceremony of letting go ghosts of destruction. I walk carefully through the garden, through the hallway of sobbing and laughter, the kitchen of bread and meat, the bedroom of desires and can see no ghosts though they will take the shape of objects of ordinary living. There is no poetry where there are no mistakes, said the next messenger. I am a human being, I said

 

ISBN: 0393320960

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