Ruefle is an essayist and the author of numerous books of poetry, and this new book will be a favorite. It is smart and strange, while remaining deeply companionable and reserving to the writer a measure of disdain for it all. There are many good ideas: “without rejection there would be no as-we-know-it-Earth. What is our ball but a rejected stone flung from the mother lode?” When I see the moon I often think about it as having escaped, but Ruefle is right, the winning image is that rejection in our lives somehow parallels the big bang and our blue planet ending up out here on its own. Rejection is generative. This book is made of relatively plain-language prose poems in service of exceedingly careful observations that end up in surprises and ideas. Her poem “Please Read” is a bird’s witness of a dying woman’s last moments, as she watches a bird outside her sickroom window. The poem is in brilliant conversation with Keats’s assertion that a poet becomes the bird on the windowsill; and also with the fly Emily Dickinson heard when she died. The longer poem “Pause” comes with a reproduction of a chart tracking Ruefle’s daily crying and is as powerful a report on the body in revolt as we are likely to find anywhere. Bold, literary, casual, and strange. Insight is everywhere. There is a mood of having mostly given up dealing with the starry-eyed, but a curiosity persists throughout the book, including lines for the ages like this one: “If my mother and father were still alive they would be very confused.”
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.