By Mary Ruefle, reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

“I am going to die. / No such thought has ever occurred to me / since the beginning of my exclusive time / in air….” With the deft eye and frank concern we’ve come to expect from her singular, well-loved voice, Ruefle sidles up to the mundane, revealing all observation—even a nod in death’s direction—to be the vibrant privilege of the living. This latest collection brims with reminders that our time here is exclusive and that our experience is beholden to each small, attentive gesture. Emerging out of a deep relationship with dailiness and introspection that at times borders on prayer, these poems are buoyant with the humility and good humor that must accompany the tasks of poem-making and being human, if one is to survive either: “My attention sets out / in a cheerful mood on a memorable / expedition to the sink. / Oh blank and hopeless days! / Oh long sleepless nights!” For Ruefle, imagination and empathy unlock—despite our biological limits—a limitless engagement with our world, one in which “beneath an ordinary glance / dwells an explosive.” Even if “it’s hard to say hello to every atom,” these pages contain evidence of an earnest effort to do so. We’re all going to die, but until we do let us be grateful for another essential collection from a writer who offers us all this simple, necessary reminder: “I used to think everything had meaning— / and it does.”

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Fall-Winter 2019.