Review by Lauren Rusk
Rooms and Their Airs
By Jody Gladding
Perfect Bound, 80 pages
Link to purchase
Entering Jody Gladding’s exquisite small poems, I feel space open up and take a fuller breath than I have for a while. Within the space of her poems, nature and culture are one; I partake of their kinship with gratitude and the wonder of heightened attention.
Gladding writes with astounding freshness about essential daily acts that many millions perform. That freshness derives in part from the wholeness of her vision (and, one imagines, her life), in which mothering and birthing, for example, are indissoluble from writing.
into my other
she slips free
all I name.
Similarly, a made and haunting image is one with the maker’s body, with animals’ bodies, with chemistry, geology, and physics, in the poem “February 14—Dordogne,” about an ancient picture of a reindeer curving around a cave wall, its head not rendered.
Which is not to say she’s left anything unfinished, only that the processes of creation are ongoing. So she takes the pigment into her mouth. She mixes it with her spit. She finds the reindeer’s flank, there, curving out from the wet stone. And through a bird’s bone, she blows.It’s her breath that fixes the line to the sweating limestone wall. Fixes it, but only in the play of shadow and light.
Often Gladding’s speaker realizes herself through her attention to other parts of nature. Just by growing, the poem “Flower Moon” observes, beings take a chance:
. . .
the early ones
this isn’t easy for them
the trout lily the wild oats
I was sowing then I didn’t even know
the boy hired to watch the building site
I showed him where the road ended
and the overgrown trail
I brought him to the open abandoned place
and lay downtrust trust say the limp wings of emerging moths
. . .
I lay downand no harm
came to me there
done . . .
. . .
oh my love remember
this time of molting crabs
when nothing can protect you
and nothing does.
And culture—in the form of a boyfriend’s cigarette “lit up in the parking lot hot tar still / bubbling engine running”—agrees that the risk is vital, in the poem “Red Moon”:
the red ash
heat rising from us
so much shimmering that moon
no one could say it wasn’t living
no one could call it dust.
Those two poems belong to a group of pieces that take off from Native American mythopoetic names for the moon in different times of year (all the poems were written at the corresponding time). Thus, again, as with her poems about cave art, Gladding’s subject matter embraces both the natural and the cultural.
So, indeed, does the subject matter of her poems inspired by prints in the Medieval Health Handbook.
Air out the quilt. Down remembers
the wind.Remake the bed. Down remembers
the poem “Rooms and Their Airs (Camere et Aer Ipsius)” begins. Further on it continues, “Prepare a fish. If the skin’s not thick, / it lived in shallows that run among stones.” The poem concludes with the caution that culture’s oneness with nature is dynamic, not neutral: “Conserve the bones. Nothing you do here / will be forgotten.”
There is also a caution in “February 14—Dordogne.” The cave picture remains because “twelve thousand years later, the plant cover on the hillside above the cave determines the climate within, balancing the inward percolation”—as long as visitors leave the place as it is.
Mostly, though, the care that Gladding hopes we will take is implicit, in the way she imagines herself and what she creates—as part of the natural world. In “Sweet Apples (Poma Mala Dulcia),” the speaker urges,
Here, have a taste. I used to be less liberal.
I’d cling to them, think flesh of my flesh.
But where does that lead? Collapsed brown
mouths the deer won’t eat, come winter.
Better to harvest while a tree still knows
how blossoming’s a way to enter deep into
the world. Even though it leaves you
scatterbrained, a stubble of missed
connections. Or fruitful and worried
by every inching thing. Just look at them—
my sweet, sweet apples. Please eat
your fill. . . .
Having done so, I am glad that the poet, when not subject to “Dawdling (Cessatio),” acts in accord with the “Beaver Moon”:
Beaver spreads her broad tail over the moon
all month she does this
she says work workher tail’s gray
from end to end
she slaps it hard she says
work workthe trees raise their bare arms
their empty hands
nothing for them to do nowbeaver gnaws away
from every side
what’s left of the day’s
pure heartwoodbeaver leaves it standing
little spool of light—
Gladding’s pieces, as these examples show, take various forms, such as minimal lines, couplets, and opened out spaces (all with deftly meaningful line breaks), as well as lyric paragraphs. The form of each poem seems to me natural to the process it enacts—the speaker’s mind, the poem’s body: one. Rooms and Their Airs is a nourishing work.
Lauren Rusk teaches writing and literature at Stanford University and has served as Poet in Residence at Stanford’s campus in Berlin. Her books include Pictures in the Firestorm (Plain View, 2007) and a critical study of autobiographical prose, The Life Writing of Otherness: Woolf, Baldwin, Kingston, and Winterson (Routledge, 2002, 2009). Her second collection of poems, in progress, is titled What Remains to Be Seen.