Body, in Good Light. Erin Rodoni. Sixteen Rivers Press. San Francisco, California. 2017.
"...bliss, like a memory, can be unearthed by scent."
"The Body Lathe"
Erin Rodoni's Body, in Good Light has enough light to charm your eyes open wide but there will be tears enough before the end. Rodoni has poems built on sustained intensity but without any anxiety, passion without pontification.
Today's book of poetry is a bit distracted today as our associate Odin is putting in his last days with us. Odin has been presented with a bigger and better playground and is unable to say no. We understand that and are proud of the work he has done here, we are sorry to see him go. Odin never talked all that much but we sure listened when he did.
Body, in Good Light is just the sort of book Odin likes best, unapologetic intelligence, open-hearted wit and kindness.
The Ninety-Year-Old Woman On My Table
is speaking into the lavender-spritzed air
between us. Her muscles Braille another
story. She's telling me about her niece,
who lives with a man she'll never marry.
It's complicated, you see. There's so little
between her bones and mine, a thumb's
pad, a tendon's frayed twine. You see,
he has a wife. Sometimes it seems these
bodies just appear under my hands. She has
some kind of condition. They all touch
their own shoulders, their lower backs
to show me where the pain is. Sometimes
they want to touch mine (right there) as if
we don't all inhabit the same sad pockets
of skin. Can't move, can't speak. I imagine
there are people hired just to wash her
where her husband can't. Certainly can't
have sex, and I suppose he has all he wants
with my niece. Our muscles are toned to transfer
gentleness. From lover to child. From stranger
to self and back again. Sometimes the weight
of a toothbrush seems too much when I remember
I must lift it twice a day until I no longer can.
They have children together. I've kissed my own
grandmothers into smaller and smaller beds,
fixed their hair -- all wrong I'm sure. I suppose
he must have loved her. Now he tends her
like a houseplant. Or maybe she's a ghost
orchid in a greenhouse in a snowed in city.
Probably still does, in his way. The globe
unshaken, shelved in one of these little rooms
where hands polish it with love
so unconditional it's cruel.
Erin Rodoni talks about cancer and childbirth and chemotherapy and the impending death of a younger brother and when she is doing this she is covering some damned sad territory, sweet and profound. As a reader you'll feel compelled to turn to the next page, Rodoni keeps the iron under your feet suitably red.
Today's book of poetry also wants to warn you. Rodoni moved us to real, running down the cheeks, tears more than once. As much of a crocodile as I can sometimes be those were real emotions running down my old face.
You Kept My Summer Dresses
when I died, and jewels worn closest to my skin.
You warmed them in a fist, watched hemlines swish
dust, once my thigh. When you lie
beside your new love now, do you miss
the little nicks not on her shinbone,
the mole your little finger doesn't brush?
Hush, I know about darkness, how it funnels
a sort of light we see as flesh
through our sealed lids. I know about rooting
toward comfort's infrared.
I only meant to say I can't forgive you.
I'm not God, just a voice inside your head.
You remember, don't you, what I said
about the heart? To do the things it tells you?
Soon she will jump at necklaces curled like cobras
in your sock drawer. Soon it will be time
to wash my dresses, leave them slapping on the line.
All I ask is, just once more at dusk, stand
in the life we shared, let night gather
behind the dresser, beneath the bed.
Let shadows press open the closet and breathe
the last moths of my scent.
Our morning read was a tempered emotional affair this morning. We were all on edge because of Odin's bon voyage. Every time Rodoni crossed an emotional bridge one of us jumped out of our skin and to be pulled back from the ledge.
Odin calmed us all down, as he always does, kissed everyone, left. A class act all the way.
When I got back to my office there was a short note from Odin on my desk. He said "that Rodoni woman is built from strong stuff, first rate poetry from an intelligent woman's voice. Remember that you grew up under the care of a strong, intelligent woman. Stay the course."
We Chop Onions, Listen To Billie Holiday
The windows fogged. Our eyes. My brother slides the knife from his
wife's fist, dances her around the room. Her body already out of breath,
he folds her to his chest. They revolve in one place: teenagers during
the last song of prom. My husband stands behind me. I lean into his
weight. And for a moment I let myself conjure a child with her smile
and my brother's green eyes, a child who will never run through this
house playing tag with the child I don't yet have. Beyond the steam on
the windows, fall's first frost sharpens the marsh grass, and the arced
maps in the stars tick past without us until we are already ghosts.
Erin Rodoni's Body, in Good Light is flat out excellent. You should give a copy to every woman you know. Wouldn't hurt any of the menfolk either.
ABOUT THE AUTHORErin Rodoni is the author of Body, in Good Light (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017) and A Landscape for Loss, which won the 2016 Stevens Manuscript Prize sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies and is forthcoming later this year. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Cimarron Review, Drunken Boat, Ninth Letter, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Adroit Journal, among others. Her poems have also been included in the Best New Poets anthology, featured on Verse Daily, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and honored with an Intro Journals Award from the Association of Writers and Writing programs. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two young daughters.
BLURBS“I walk toward you barefoot,” writes Erin Rodoni, a poet who can speak with the same ease of private elegies and public journeys, of childbirth and of changing trains in Krakow, of grief on losing a loved one to cancer, and of ‘borrowed countries / where bougainvillea scales balconies // like a romance language.’ Here is a book that journeys out into the world, and also inward—into the mysteries of private life, of the body, where ‘bliss, like a memory, can be unearthed by scent.’ I love how wisdom enters the moment of passion in these poems, where we see ourselves living here, on this earth, ‘believing // in these bodies.’ This is a marvelous debut.”
—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa
“The aesthetic that courses throughout Erin Rodoni’s sumptuous debut—tender and bittersweet, but also clear-eyed and unflinching—recalls Rilke’s ninth Duino Elegy, in which the earth’s dream is ‘to resurrect / in us invisibly.’ That ache of regeneration and rejuvenation is made manifest in Body, in Good Light. In the section entitled ‘A Sort of Light We See as Flesh,’ the poem ‘The Chapel’ brings us to a woman’smemorial service, where Rodoni faces ‘an altar draped in fabric / that belongs to no faith.’ At the end, though, she says: ‘We praise/ the faith of whatever machine // keeps the warmth in her hands.’ By extension, that warmth extends to the poet, to those she holds dear, and, thankfully, to us.”
—Thomas Centolella, author of Views from Along the Middle Way
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