Before It’s Light is Lifshin at her most nostalgic, full of evocative memories of her grandmother, mother, her own childhood. Even projections back into familial worlds the way they were long before she was born. No poses here, no wise acre disguises. Andy Kaufman. Just disquietingly straightforward projections out into her intimate world, even before she was there:

In a small dark
bedroom in Witherbee
my grandmother
listens to trains, her
belly swollen days
before the first, a girl,
will fight her way
to light. She can not
imagine mahogany
Chippendale or children
in an oval frame in a
room she can’t sleep in
in a new town where the
traffic gets heavy and
the hemlock crowd close....

"In a Small Dark Bedroom" pg 75

Lifshin keeps going and regoing through the fields of her memories and there are always special pieces of amethyst, jasper and malachite that she has missed the first hundred times aruond. And there are new fields here that she’s never walked in before, not personal but historical-archaeological. It is a whole other brilliant Lifshin moving from the intensely personal to the general historical objective:

Past Mogollon River
the limestone ruins
scrape it with your finger
and the floor breaks No one knows
where they went
From the cliffs
with their earth jars and sandals

Or if they
cursed the
Desert moon
As they wrapped
their dead babies
in bright cloth
and jewels

even familiar things like Rosh Hodesh. The Jewish holiday celebrating the new moon, takes on wider mythological :

...The moon could
be the sea
washing days
slowly from her
in its waes..the month
is water,. has tried
sea walls, has
tried to root
but feels the
past move from
under her, the
new moon like
a lover’s breath
begging her
to start over

(Rosh Hodesh p. 213)

What next? You can’t help feeling that this excursion into myth/ archaeology is but the beginning of a whole new slant toward epistemological ultimates. You think of Rilke’s Duino Elegies, Vallejo’s POEMAS HUMANAS. Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.

Like dreaming of
some place after
you leave it. You
wake up in a daze

(It Goes On" p. 239

Last updated: December 27, 2000