The Tiniest Muzzle Sings Songs of Freedom

reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

We enter Magdalena Zurawski’s contemplative second collection by arriving—“You arrive in a sentence / where you would like / to stay, but you are told // to move on to another, / so you do”—but, as the poet has already suggested by the close of her first sentence, we are not meant to stay put. “[M]y people / have lost faith in things meant to land // a clear yes or no. It’s good to welcome / a stranger into the house.” Central to this volume is an interest in resisting and interrogating closure, but Zurawski does not sacrifice clarity in her explorations of the existentially elusive; on the contrary, a sure-footed voice grounds us in these poems, one marked by the clear-eyed intelligence of a mind that cannot help but see beauty and even humor in the act of wrestling with oneself and one’s position in the world. “What does / it matter if I grind / my teeth for the old ladies of / Puerto Rico? Or take a knee / in the front yard every time I hear / the national anthem / in my head? The neighbor just thinks / I’m weeding and waves.” Here, the act of writing itself is rendered indistinguishable from the act of understanding how one might live ethically and with compassion—the search for “a brightness / in all of this, that too-much that binds us”—making this a book that will be deeply felt by writers and readers alike.

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