The poem delineates a long list of "reasons" why things are going wrong. The ending, however, is quintessential John Brehm-surprising us with how accurately he's pinned down the stuff of daily living. His very informality packs a punch, and if the ending brings us up short, it's meant to:
And a million reasons hang
upside down like sleeping bats.
For God's salve don't disturb them!
Relax. Tell yourself it's just a bad mood,
that it'll pass and then return
and pass away again, like
everything else. Like the rain
and fog this morning. Like everything.
At once playful and serious, Sea of Faith remains a collection of singularities, unified by a voice that, like the rain, we will want to hear again-and yet again.
Amy Fleury's Beautiful Trouble opens on the Kansas plains where she grew up, establishing a perspective from which we can understand its particular passions. "That girl / always a string bean child" will reach puberty, bringing with her the willful self who can thirty-three pages later call out from "Commotions of the Flesh," saying:
To hell with the mind
and its pursuit of its own
proper good. I am concerned here
with the commotions of the flesh.
Living in the fissure between desire
and the having, I have failed,
failed, failed to control myself.
The voice here is at once intimate and authoritative, determined by that elusive element we call "tone;' which in this book is inquisitive and feisty. We're in the presence of someone who is willing to thumb her nose at the conventional as she honors a life where "there was trouble all around and everywhere little mercies."
The prairie resides within the poems, acts as backdrop to the smaller dramas that play themselves out on the human stage. Fleury captures the land's essence in quick watercolor brush strokes-wheel rut, cottonwoods, barbed wire, stubble fields-that move toward the figurative: "gray clods of our dreams;" "days piled like stones lifted / and placed by the side of the field," "the scribbles of twigs / caught in rainspouts." These, in turn, give way to extended metaphors, exacting in their precision, novel in their approach. And these, in their turn, return to the image, reversing its terms: "sky as stark / as prairie in winter." In this landscape, emotions stand out in bas relief. Finally, the images hold both person and poem in place: "There was always the rusted water pump / and section of rotted fence. / Always and again something /to keep her?’
Beautiful Troubles is a fully realized book, a female child's coming of age-the very title names the tensions, coming as it does from a poem entitled "The Fugitive Eve," linking yet again a curious mind and the body's desires. "Pink" moves from a rejection of ruffles into a world where, come spring, there are "brash azaleas / and bright zinnias blazing." "Blaze" might be a good word for what these poems do as they ignite the kindling of place and explore the more explosive mix of emotions. "Wherever the Dancing Is Done" states it this way:
But I am bound to this place,
wherever the dancing is done,
left with the wish
to be easy in my body and the clumsy belief
in flung arms and these dirty feet.
To be easy in the body, to be at ease with its turbulence-the poet probes that haunting underside of the poems at every opportunity and from every angle. It becomes a quest, culminating in a moment when the poet sees evidence of such ease in the natural world. Still, the mind will insist itself, and "Nemaha County Nocturne" weds place with grammar, even as it follows its rumbling is into the quieter landscape of 1, the lines paring themselves down to one muted repetition:
The difficult stars parse the night into silence, benediction, dream. Between soil and silo thrums the grammar of grain and all of Kansas rests.
The slender roots of weeds suck at the dirt, and the listing windmills and ruined barns lean toward their beginnings. Flowing north,
our river glides through glacial cuts and those ghosts of primitive sea. A turtle, overturned dish
of flesh and patience, swims against history's blur. Locusts resurrect
the wind and with reluctant tongues we name it
From this point on, the book's tone shifts somewhat, becomes more quietly contemplative. Many of the poems are quite short-brieflyric impressions that capture a moment of being. Often, though, they arrive at an insight so keen it stays with you. One such moment occurs in "Elegy for the Living." There is grieving for the not-yetdead, and it takes place over time and is not often expressed. The final two lines of this poem, however, express it for us:
Absence has its own life.
We listen when it speaks.
Fleury shapes such wisdom almost seamlessly; it arises from her material and her imagery, but it surprises us with its simple intelligence. She seems to move gracefully to places poets like William Stafford came to as well, and it may be no accident that they share the shaping lessons of the Kansas plains. But Amy Fleury's poems have a hotter vein, a sexual fervor that smolders, leading her from her first "whiskey kiss" to the opening of "Burning Back":
Once I was a girl with a truck
and a tackle box full of jigs and treble hooks.
We sat on my tailgate to watch pasture scorch,
and he traced my bones-hip, thigh, shin.
Burning back the grass becomes the process of the poems themselves, so that like the poet, standing "at this edge of fallow field;' they seem to be knowingly on the brink: "Like a brittle weed I want to know again / the prairie's need to burn and burn:' The poems of Beautiful Trouble enrich the fields, burning themselves into both mind and heart.