Somewhere Piano by Sarah Busse

Somewhere Piano
Sarah Busse
Mayapple Press, 2012
Perfect bound, 56 pgs
Purchase link

Reviewed by Sarah Karpovich

In Somewhere Piano, her first full-length collection, Sarah Busse traverses the domestic spaces of motherhood with an unapologetic, critical eye and a polished poetic voice.  Her poems deconstruct an apparently average, suburban life, finding and celebrating the lyric in the everyday.  Busse’s impeccable use of meter and rhyme, as well as her careful attention to word choice, lend her work a quality of patient preparation and sophistication. Her lines flow as naturally as the birdsong she extols every few pages.  Somewhere Piano is closely attentive to nature: every glance out the kitchen window is potentially a lyric moment, though Busse also explores darker issues against that backdrop.
“Flicker” both embodies this love of nature and demonstrates Busse’s overall poetic prowess. Written in effortless metrical verse, “Flicker” shows an astonishing attention to sound that begins in the very first line: “This morning a flock of flickers—flash of red,/ flash of yellow at my feet—rose and flew…”  The poem goes on to describe an autumn day, the grasses and trees personified, as the speaker observes her children playing in fallen leaves whose colors echo the flicker’s plumage. Though lush with color and activity, the poem becomes tinged with melancholic longing when, in the final stanza, the speaker wonders briefly: “and where are you to be found—in the slow pour/ of strong coffee, the smoky stars that reel invisible/ over the city?”
In “Cattle Point,” Busse moves beyond the world of birds but continues to look outside, fascinated by what she finds.  Here the speaker moves outside the domestic realm she occupies in much of the book.  She is briefly alone in a rural setting, not her own home (she refers to it as “the house we’re staying in”), and delights in the moment when she watches a fox trot across the expansive yard.  Busse’s flexible meter and slant rhyme describe the natural world outside her window: “The firs/ maintain their grip upon the rock,/ and poppies bloom orange beside the black/ strip of solitary road. I’m all alone.”  Solitude prevails in this poem, the lone fox and the lone poet at her desk. The speaker derives connection from the sighting, feeling almost disappointed when the fox disappears from view, “leaving me a wide/ upstairs view with nobody in it, and a mug of coffee, steam rising.”
In the darker “Pitched,” Busse returns to the domestic space in which she often grounds her poems. Though the voice and subject matter are congruent with Somewhere Piano’s prevailing patterns, the speaker’s character is portrayed in a new light.  This poem demonstrates a turn, a new layer to the speaker’s role as mother.  “I will not drag my son across the floor,” the speaker begins, “after today.”  She takes us to a moment of brief violence, of lost patience, a reality of parenthood she has not yet explored within this book, and ends with the haunting line: “My children fear their mother.”
“Silhouettes” takes us to yet another darker realm, exploring fear once again, though this time outside the role of motherhood.  It seems at times that Busse speaks and breathes in pentameter; it comes that naturally to her, and this sonnet is no exception.  The scene is laid out in the first stanza: a nineteen-year-old woman (the speaker, presumably Busse herself) sleeps in an unlocked apartment.  This is not the fear that children have of their mother, nor the guilty fear of the mother herself; the fear Busse explores here is that of any woman.  An intruder slips in, arriving at her bedroom only to wake her, and disappears, his own fear getting the better of him: “And then my great good luck: he ran away.”  It is a moment that has clearly never left her: again, we feel her solitude and, again, as in “Pitched,” we are struck by the final line, one simultaneously playful and fearsome.  Of her would-be attacker she concludes, “I never saw him again. As far as I know.”
Unafraid to explore conflicting emotions, Busse moves through anger, fear, and enchantment in Somewhere Piano with metrical ease and lyrical grace.  Busse’s poetry displays a certain tenacious independence, and she is unapologetic in her distinctive observations of everyday life. 
Sarah Karpovich is a recent graduate of Loyola University Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Writing and Spanish. She has recently been published in The Journal and River & South Review. She currently lives in Baltimore and works at a small (but energetic!) nonprofit.