reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Nuernberger’s second book is a visit to the end of innocence and an entry into the war-zone years of getting pregnant, giving birth, and early motherhood. The poet speaks this testimony through her fascination for nineteenth-century medical arcana and the various languages of science. On her own life she sneaks in wild testimony: there is blood and the memory of blood on nearly every page. Early in the book the poet hands us a few quick mentions or declarations that she is done with sex. Soon we are let in on harsh facts: a heartbreaking miscarriage, which is chronicled in a nonfiction version (pain, blood, body, burial), and also a fantastic version, in which the gone hoped-for child is now a tiny white peacock living behind the poet’s ear. There are also elf-wives and healing potions made of owl eyes. At the end of the book the white peacock releases the poet from the worst of grief and becomes a waving part of nature, echoing the flowers that had grown above the lost baby’s grave. Her title is biological and superbly direct about the shocks of the world-fulfilling age of ripening.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.