In the Voice of a Minor Saint
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Reviewed by Jill Crammond Wickham
There was a sound like a moccasin dropping
in the upstairs apartment.
If the moon comes out bearing nicks and bite marks,
you’ll find me smoothing my skin of its cares tonight.
Under a halo the size of a ring, the old
arguments sit splitting their oldest hairs tonight.
…sniffing out the buckets of sun,
my Chinese lantern rinsed with twilight…
…the swain’s waistcoat does not suit me.
I’m struck speechless in your forests –
such a grooming, and the tools you use
to foster this epidemic of hazelnuts.
But Sloat’s wordplay is at its musical best in the alluringly titled “God Have Pity on the Smell of Gasoline.” The sound in this poem is exquisite, proving yet again that we are in the presence of a skilled wordsmith. Who but a wordsmith could put words like “unctuous” and “tincture” in a poem together and make both perfect sense AND sound?
…more human than kerosene,
more unctuous, more manly.
Have pity on the tincture it rubs
into the coils of fingerprints,
the crests left under nails,
the surfeit it insinuates,
brawn that comes on suave.
God pity the vapors lifting
through the pores of the soil,
loitering near the pumps,
soot that films hair and coats,
that beds in collars,
dark gloom of velocity.
Where else but in a dream of a poetry collection would you find not one, but two ghazals, nestled among a host of poems rife with original music, and one lone cento? Ah, the cento… Also known as a patchwork poem, a cento is a poem stitched together from other people’s poems. It is a verse composed entirely of lines or phrases from the work of other authors. A patchwork poem can be rhymed or unrhymed; it can be assembled with emphasis on lines, or the lines might be chosen because they contain a focused concordance of a specific word.
Downtown there’s a man who will write
my name on a grain of rice for 5 euros.
I’m sure he’s a decent man who could use
5 euros, but what would I want with that?
Immediately after reading this poem, I declared it my favorite in the collection. Normally a fan of poems just a bit longer, I asked myself, Why? The answer is simple. “Please Remove My Name” embodies nearly everything that a poet should aspire to: a vastness of thought, gleaned from a single observation, distilled into a simple, pure truth.
On the morning of my ruin
I will dress in a vest of bees
as the sun crimps the sky
and light spreads, tight,
intricate as a honeycomb
over the home I have chosen.
As the final poem in the collection, “Vestment” holds power. The opening line situates us firmly in the future, one both tight and intricate. The speaker is stronger, somehow, for her bold decision to “dress in a vest of bees.” As readers, we are led to feel confident that our trusty guide is a survivor, that those she once feared, “those who seal the suit of mail/ no other ruin can sting.” We rejoice in the sure and steady voice of our minor saint, in the sure hand of poet Sarah Sloat “that tricks a smile/ with its perfect sense” (“3 Deep”).