Colors of the River. Stella Ann Nesanovich. Yellow Flag Press. Lafayette, Louisiana. 2015.
Stella Ann Nesanovich's Colors of the River is an elegant travelogue to the heart of Louisiana. Whether writing about the mouth-watering soul of the place - it's cuisine, or the hateful weather that brings dark water Nesanovich is telling us sweetly how much she loves it.
New Orleans looms large as a character of the past, present and future hopeful runs resplendent through these pages as Nesanovich celebrates its beauty and character, laments the geographical burden of high water.
Their names are no longer familiar.
There was Mack and Sleepy and Claude,
at whose home I spent hours.
My brother must remind me about Eviste,
Lucius, and August, the one who ate
only bananas for lunch and napped
on the concrete floor of my father's shop.
Once he told a woman the oysters
weren't good, unsalty and too small.
She was stupid, he said, to purchase
oysters like that.
Vanished now, with the oyster dressing
made from New Orleans French bread,
airy and light, and the Fridays
when my father brought home
a pint to dip in cornmeal and fry--
oysters the shuckers had opened.
Whether in deep anguish at the death of her sister or describing trash men rolling bins of banana leaves Nesanovich's poems have the same rich comfort, her lush language is a balm. In her anguish she always finds a way towards light, she tempers joy and hope with the pull of the tide on salt marshes, the swirl of brown water.
Cafe du Monde
Summer, a night when we have pleaded
for beignets, crisp triangles sprinkled
with powdered sugar, heavy when cooled,
mottling paper with oily circles.
Cafe du Monde: car windows down, warm air glazing
our arms with sweat, glistening from my father's
tattoo, the horseshoe reading "Mother."
The glare of city lights mapping streets,
neon patterns of the old Quarter with its wet bricks,
the hum of cicadas, circular pillars.
Beyond, the leveee, the river.
Hunch-backed Buicks and Chevrolets
diagonally park as waiters arrive
toting trays of doughnuts and cafe au lait,
richly flavored with scalded milk
like the first sweet inhalation of sugar
spinning up with our breath,
powdering our fingers and hands
as we glide into that sensuous taste
of the past. I am eleven, just old enough
to know what I want, thinking
this moment will last, the sweet delight
will hold us forever: my sister and me,
the black Hudson with its dusky interior,
the smells from the docks and the river,
the fruit stands where Angelo sells my father
cantaloupes and peaches, and we have years
to plan, to dream, to bite into the hot flesh of life
with its tingle, its flavor, its promise.
Colors of the River is the poetry of an examined life, the questions asked have consequence. Nesanovich canters through the world with her spirit intact and full of considerable wonder.
Sorrow Stalks Me in an Old Coat
the color of churned water.
I have worn it for years -- it
no longer fits, tugs at the waist
where I have grown under cover,
spreading like roots, like grief,
swelling in rows of deep rhizomes
long after sowing. How often
can a heart break? When
might I be rid of this old coat?
"You can't go home again" said old Tom the Wolfe and he was right. You can't swim in the same river twice either. Don't remember who said that but it is true. No amount of wishing can hold back time and time will change everything. Memory is the only boat that will float on that river.
Stella Ann Nesanovich's Colors of the River is one enchanting ride.
Stella Ann Nesanovich
ABOUT THE AUTHORStella Ann Nesanovich is the author of four chapbooks of poems: A Brightness That Made My Soul Tremble: Poems on the Life of Hildegard of Bingen, My Mother’s Breath, Dance, Oh, Heart, Double Round: Poems on Mechthild of Magdeburg, and My Father’s Voice, as well as a full-length collection, Vespers at Mount Angel: Poems. She is Professor Emeritus of English from McNeese State University.
BLURBSTo enter a Stella Nesanovich poem is to enter a sacred space, one walked by the likes of kindred souls like Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, and Hildegard of Bingen but also inhabited by in-the-world- being poets like Robert Frost, James Wright, and Seamus Heaney. Her beloved city of New Orleans, ever the invisible city on the horizon, she brings into being over and over again. I will never tire of reading the poems this master poet has collected in Colors of the River.
The elegaic waters of memory plash and ripple across these poems. The poignant churning of Nesanovich's collection carries the reader along in its compelling currents. This is poetry of both ache and celebration, as haunting and life-giving as the mighty Mississippi itself.
With her exquisite new collection of poems, Stella Nesanovich is undoubtedly one of Louisiana's most gifted poets and a contributor to the Southern elegaic tradition. She is a keeper of memories from a childhood spent in south Louisiana and a chronicler of places and events that shape a more contemporary South. Her poems read like "a nova, a shooting star exploding/innocence." In them readers will find the familiar--Cafe du Monde, Grand Coteau, the Batture, the Ogden Museum, and muffulettas--but also the eerie reflections that absence is both comfort and sorrow. One feels as though he/she has sat for one of Nesanovich's family photos.
—Philip C. Kolin
One is immediately struck by the sheer gorgeousness of these poems, their polished music and appealing lyricism. What lingers are piercing insights revealed by precise imagery and wise story-telling. Part pleasure craft, part diving bell, "Colors of the River" is a poetic voyage. I know I will dip into this volume again and again, and each time catch something new.
Full disclosure: I have known and loved many of these poems for years. In reading Colors of the River, I find these and once again welcome the honesty and the profundity, the remarkable insight that Nesanovich brings to the task of transforming the story (and stories) of her life into art. The poems that are new to me carry their own revelations, another trove of poems to know and cherish. The poems in this collection are written at different nodes in Nesanovich’s eventful life. Happily, she has devised a structure—often missing in poetry manuscripts—that bonds all the individual poems into a whole. In doing so, Nesanovich has given us a sacred story, one that challenges us to examine our own lives closely and with gratitude—all the pain, joy, detail, passion, failure, and confusion—and to learn that our own lives are made of love and holiness.
—Ava Leavell Haymon
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