You have to wonder when the woman has time to dry her hair
then you figure shes just letting that long lavish mane dry
in whatever wind comes along. Why cant I picture Lyn Lifshin
with a blow dryer in her hand anyway?
One of the most prolific poets of our time, Lifshin has put out
a new chapbook called Novembery, on e.s.p. press. It draws its images
and free verse (dribbled like a careful sandcastle in lines usually
3-4 words long) from this time in her life, and a major relationship
of her past. her relationship with her mother. At first,
Lifshin writes as if shes managing a time lapse photo, each
poem a slightly different unfolding of the themes of the one before,
each one contributing to our deepening sense of the entire subject.
Thematic and lyrical as many but not all of her works are
Novemberly starts with a night drive from Austerlitz/an
hour north to bring in my plants/early September
poem introduces the geraniums which are recast in the succeeding
poems, as if they were so real as to be animals
under a quilt last night, a blotch of red opening/on the front steps
what looked like lint/ has small pink claws and feet., from
the first poem of the collection: Today, Longing for Upstate, Unseasonably
Cold, Highs only in the Mid Thirties.
She draws from Greek mythology in the poem, Maybe but it
Feels More Septemberly in writing about herself as Persephone,
the goddess who must spend six months in the underworld before her
mother Demeter draws her back up into the earths arms: under
my hair Im /Persephone, not quite/ up for so much bloom,/
I feel more like some/ thing dark under layers/ of night, the brown/
seeds of silver dollars
Something like a swift and deftly traced travelogue of that fall-time,
she includes poems about her sister as well at the time of her mothers
death the recriminations one can feel within a family in
The Images, the Faces, My Sisters Eyes, when there
are 15 years no truce, no phone. Furthermore she writes,
I stopped the cards. You murdered the victims twice
she squealed at a last funeral. Someone said my face turned snow.
We can feel the sting of reproach in the compactness of the last
sentence. Again Lifshin turns to the oncoming season of winter,
her face turning into snow to match it.
Like a Bergman film clip, she repeats the scene in the next poem,
Another Woman who Looks like my Sister, dove grey
eyes or/ maybe the sea/ruby birth, the same blood we share /but
of course dont/It made it easier,/ what you said, /knifed
what Id /have needed /to go on/
.Your /scream shriek,/
then, face distorted/ I didnt know you. Her sister,
in her hateful and shocked explosion, literally becomes something
else, an abstraction, another woman to Lyn Lifshin.
She documents the turning points in her mothers aging. I
Lift my Mother to the Commode, describes a heart-wrenching
moment when her mother losses mobility and Lyn and a stranger help
her. Our/ awkward dance to lift /her hopeless as prayers/
for mercy, a reprieve/ but I try to not show my/ fear and now see
her/ tremble as the doorbell/ rings, Verizon, to install/ a private
line shell be/ alive less than a week to/ use. Still on the
commode,/ my stranded mother is/ lifted by the smiling man /as if
it was part of every/ days phone service,/ gently as if carrying
/a bride over the threshold/ for a new life. In this way,
Lifshin again conjures an elegant travail like a dancer on
a beam of light.-- out of a moment many of us would find humiliating
The arc of the book, from Lyns remembering her mother alive,
her funeral scenes that flash by with her estrangement to her sister,
and Lyn always seeing herself a figure in the midst with emails
and boxes to pack and feelings to explore like her plants, we come
back to a poem about Lyns illustrious mane of hair, as if
it were part of the trademark of her many extensions of living from
roots to fly-away ends. In The Mad Girl has Butterflies in
her Hair, she writes, not just Monarchs/ but owl butterflies,
swallow/ tails, mourning cloaks,/ viceroys and painted/ ladies.
Wings brush/ her skin
The chapbook includes several lovely photos of Lyns mother
and herself, as both child and adult.
It is a book like the sign of Virgo, entreating us like a deceptively
small white rose.
I am always a fan.
Ibbetson St. Press