Reviewed by PQ Contributing Editor Dawn Leas
If God is infinite, and God is the light, what happens
to the house of mirrors when the museum is empty,
the lights out?
And then a few lines later:
…What if the church is a house of mirrors,
and the people go home, the lights are off?
What if God is only a vast, reflective emptiness?
The title poem, “Water-Rites” addresses drought, over-consumption and waste:
so many parched human beings
desiccating earth and I –
I thought to wash
my trespasses away
in something other
The second section, How Distant the Swan, contains several poems about losing her close friend, David Dunn, including an epistle, “The Way to Ordinary,” in which Michael explains to David what the year is like without him. She equates death and loss with drought, creates beautiful imagery:
July was a long, bricked path.
August was a withered skin, a locust shell, rattler’s cloak.
She ends the poem with:
How shall I hold me up without you? Who will take my/hand,
lead me through grief and into a year of average rainfall,
splendid fruit? I await your answer, with love,
Michael also explores the collision of humanity and nature in several poems in this section. In “The Mourners” a goldfinch dies caught in the railing of a porch, and “The Broken” tells the story of a fawn being hit by a car, a frequent occurrence on the roads of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Suburbs saved the white-tails,
scourged the bobcat, spilled
grass seed over farmland. Crippled us all.
And then toward the end of the poem when Michael speaks of reading about the history of the land:
Those traces remain amid street with curbs, swales,
square miles of roof tiles, strip malls and high schools.
Each section flows with the fluidness of moving water. The poems join together with the energy of of river melding with ocean. The collection reads like a waltz in which the dance partners have studied and practiced until they move together like water. Michael exquisitely co-mingles words, images and stories depicting water (life) and drought (death), which then offers the feelings found deep in the well of loss and the idea of accepting death as a part of rather than separate from life for the reader to contemplate.