reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht
White’s new collection is made up of short, untitled poems. There are images that manage to be ethereal and exotic in addition to being physical and domestic. For example, “In the living room once, white balloons twisted into the ghosts of animals,” and in another poem, “I remember the paper house, hung from a cage hook in my room, swaying.” The title of the book was found as a note pinned to a dress in a friend’s closet. The book is dedicated to the author’s father and also to “the four women I knew who took their lives within a year.” White is in dialogue with letters and the epistolary form, using phrases such as “I am writing you this letter,” “This is a love letter,” and in the book’s fifth poem, a long list of addressed subjects follow: “Dear Kitty, Dear God, Dear Lucifer. // I cut my hair off this morning, placed the long blond braid in an envelope. // There is only one arc: suffering, transformation. // Dear Linda, Sexton wrote to her daughter on a flight to St. Louis, I love you. // In other words, these words, their spectacular lack.” White’s book presents itself as a letter but is, at the outset, spectacularly unimpressed with the power of words in the face of life and death. The world here feels blighted but also bright. She has a terrific musicality in her diction and the reader can hear her listening closely for patterns and repetitions like in these lines: “As in my father pulling me up by the wrists saying, This is the problem with being alive. // And years later, deliriously, when he was dying, Do you have the blood flower? // I was taught to chant ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ as I tore off each petal in my room. // You are not alone in your feeling of aloneness. // Yes, I have the blood flower.” Along with poems contemplating the personal, there are also poems that remember the Holocaust and struggle with the persistence of history in our minds and lives.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2017.