The Brighter House. Kim Garcia. White Pine Press. Buffalo, New York. 2016.
Winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize
Today's book of poetry is a bit weak when it comes to his mythology, its history, characters and so on. Kim Garcia's whippersnapper The Brighter House invests fairly heavily in legend, the deep mysteries of our collective past. So how does Garcia manage to make The Brighter House feel so current, urgent, how does Kim Garcia make us care?
We care because we can identify with Garcia's demons, we understand that the monster dying in the hospital bed is still a father. We know what that Blackdog anger does to perception. Garcia has the anger but these poems are too smart to resort to simple revenge, vengeance. Kim Garcia finds beauty even on the starkest panorama. She also knows that sometimes beauty has a price.
For my father and the cancer that killed him
in a drainage ditch I saw a duck and hawk
rolling, like wrestlers--old Greeks--to the death,
and the duck was taking his dying hard. It took
a long, silent time for the sugar to run out
in its muscles, for the hawk to find the place
between its neck and back, to pierce the artery,
open the blood gate, let out the fight and begin
Our morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices was slightly overshadowed by the splendid weather. Ottawa is having the nicest September anyone can remember and getting my staff in off the lawn and out of the sun has only been achieved by threat. Today's book of poetry won't share the particular threats uttered but we had a different killer for each of our minions. So then, under threat, and under a roof, in the shade of our offices and with a slight hint of protest...
Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, got the ball rolling. Once in gear Kim Garcia's The Brighter House did all the hard work. Whether Garcia is imagining/wishing into place her sister, appearing as a vengeful matador or imagining her father as God: Garcia invites the reader into her somewhat magical world with language.
Garcia peoples these poems with characters who scrape up against the smooth edges of your soul. They know where you are tender.
The man with the grass truck, for instance,
looking in on me through the car window.
I sat in my robe passenger side, engine humming
while my mother went for my prescription.
I was pale, very still. I was always
sick in those days. His eye moved
over my shoulders, into the folds of my robe,
a ticklish insect-footed sensation on my skin.
I stared back. Probably I flirted.
I don't remember, but I did things like that,
swallowed whatever came in the capsules.
I was pale, and my eyes were almost black.
My mother came out of the drugstore.
Who called who? He came down
from a load of sod he was pitchforking
to two black men below. They spoke.
Our lawn was dead.
The car was dying.
She wanted grass.
I was useless to her.
A few days later he came with a load.
After he laid the sod, he drank
a glass of lemonade at the kitchen table
with my mother. Then he took me to the drive-in.
We saw a trucker picture. Convoy, I think,
and he didn't handle me much
or force his mouth over my mouth
or speak in any way about the sod he'd unloaded
all day in Texas heat--for what?
To buy me popcorn,
to run his arm along the back
of the vinyl single seat of his pick-up
and stare in silence at a girl
stiff and scared in the seat beside him,
not knowing what she was beginning or ending.
When the movie ended
he took me home
and walked me to the door
like a real date would have done.
And the only thing he got for what he'd paid
my mother was one brief run of his warm palm
from my hip to my bra strap
along my thick, fifteen year old waist.
Which couldn't have been much a thrill
for a full grown man.
My mother was in bed. No.
She was up. Watching television,
sitting in the chair she'd rocked me in
as a child. Outside the sprinkler's steady tick
broke suddenly into a run and return.
The peepers spoke under the damp leaves,
to a steady tap of beetles against the yellow light.
Moths folded flat against the dark siding.
There'd be new grass in my mother's voice
as she looked up from her lap
where she'd have some work,
some bill to worry or dress to mend,
and ask, "What did you do?"
Just beyond the window lay the lawn, her lawn,
which would be lovely today, tomorrow
and years from now. Children changed.
You fed them and put a roof over their heads,
and one night your daughter might walk in
and look at you like a stranger.
In The Brighter House Kim Garcia's power comes from her "felted hammer on razored strings." These dignified and almost quiet poems carry the big knockout punch. When Garcia ties up the loose ends these poems are wicked sharp. Garcia is the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove.
Finally I am ready for heaven. Go ahead,
let it in now. I stare at winter branches
and try to imagine summer--all that green,
early urgency to late summer flapping
a crowd, a host.
I never had the time
before, never saw the point. I was getting
ready for the next ting, saving up.
Death might, I know, come quickly,
but that's not the main thing.
Something is leaking in, and I
can clear the way, make it easier
for it to enter. Yes, I'm saying yes.
Not to death, which isn't really my
business, but to heaven.
It may be that I'll be a scattering
of matter. It may be that I don the robe,
whatever that is. This morning
I wrap the gray wool light around me
and say to everybody morning sounds,
you can tell me everything now. All of it.
The Brighter House took Today's book of poetry in with the first poem and jerked me around like a fish on a hook until Garcia was finished with me and threw me back in the water. I'm back blowing bubbles in the weeds, but for a few moments, I was out of my element, I had a clear vision of another universe.
Garcia did that.
Photo: Frank J. Garcia
ABOUT THE AUTHORKim Garcia is the author of The Brighter House, winner of the 2015 White Pine Press Poetry Prize, DRONE, winner of the 2015 Backwaters Prize, and Madonna Magdalene, released by Turning Point Books in 2006. Her chapbook Tales of the Sisters won the 2015 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Mississippi Review, Nimrod and Subtropics, and her work has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac. Recipient of the 2014 Lynda Hull Memorial Prize, an AWP Intro Writing Award, a Hambidge Fellowship and an Oregon Individual Artist Grant, Garcia teaches creative writing at Boston College.
How does she do it! In The Brighter House, Kim Garcia speaks in the language of delicate and mesmerizing touch with phrases like "feather-brush antennae" and "ticklish insect-footed sensation" and "wished-for snow" without ever falling into precious sentimentality. Over and again, these poems mount to harsh and cold violences that speak to the intricacies of the soul in a gorgeous way that leaves the reader feeling bruised--as in pressed upon--but not bloody. This is a brilliant book of first-rate artistry.
- Jericho Brown
Rainer Maria Rilke said that there are two inexhaustible sources for poetry, childhood and dreams, and Kim Garcia drinks deeply from both wells in these magical, spooky, riveting, and mysterious poems.
- Edward Hirsch
This collection is a powerful exploration of the mythological roots of a home, a father, and sisters. The author cleans away that which obscures with the miracle of lyricism. We are lost in the stark beauty of the journey. Then, we are found.
- Jay Harjo
Video: Arkansas International
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