THREE SHORT TAKES

Reviewed by Richard Robbins

What Falls Away is Always: Poems & Conversations by Richard Terrill

Holy Cow Press, 2020 | Paperback:$16.00

Richard Terrill’s new book of poems assembles an impressive group of witnesses from the world of art, film, music, and poetry in order to create a running meditation on the sources for art and ultimately on what sustains a thinking and feeling life. Some of his poems step into the atmosphere of another artist—a painting by Hopper, a quote by Whitman or Issa, a film director’s stage directions—in order to illuminate the  uncelebrated moments that nonetheless point to powerful sensibility. Other pieces are in active and extended conversation with a suite of works—I’m thinking of the pieces  treating Chet Baker’s work and Diana Arbus’ photography. What will connect the grand variety of poems is the unrelenting return to the ordinary, the “nothing” where we live most of our lives—which is quite enough, thank you, the poet is saying over and over.

I want only four things and three of them are seasons

the last is light and darkness

it sounds extravagant at first

Worldly Things by Michael Kleber-Diggs

Milkweed Editions, 2021 | Hardcover: $22.00

These poems are about love, finally. Where does it come from and how does it get passed along? The speaker proceeds over and over as if love’s source is not a voice in the cloud or a sacred text, but rather the living energy, radically and fully engaged with, at the level of the small moments in one’s life. And so he situates himself to make a difference:  in a car shouting helpful admonishments to strangers, for instance, in a class full of adolescents pushing him away behind their earbuds and indifference. It would seem like a losing strategy until the richness and number of his engagements becomes clear. He is middle-class villager, teacher, son, husband, father, Black American citizen—trying and often failing at the demands of love, but nonetheless returning to the eternity of the small moment, to the call to be a good man.

            I want to be part of a colony where I feel easy

walking around. Cool as the goddamn breeze. Where

I can breathe, build structures sturdier and grander

than this—but the woman crosses to the other side

of the street, and I do what I usually do:  retreat into

myself as far as I can, then send out whatever’s left.

Homes:  Poems by Moheb Soliman

Coffee House Press, 2021 | Paperback: $17.95

These poems, each a kind of fractured vision, travel the endless, recurring Great Lakes  border between lakewater and some made space on land. They go west, south, east, north, and then they travel that circuit again—Duluth to American Falls, Green Bay to Manatoulin Island—creating the obsessive circle dance of the book, where the forces of industry and human effort and passion and history push up against a silence, a wild, an insistence that is neither baptism nor absolution. That the speaker clings so fiercely to the shore in every poem—rarely straying inland or out onto the water for the poem’s  materials—suggests that the homes we live in are made of this in-betweenness. They are neither a problem nor its solution.

                                                                                                                        the      wildest

blue yonder’s no sky sea whatever, water    but just the frontier, the edge of,

where worlds knock like bumpers with the weary driver waking to backseat

squeals about a tall turkey or portly porcupine seen marching out of the trees

how bad could it be?,          coming out of the collapsing green, to just

patronize the lakeside    fish & sundae shack    with    some    backwoods

currency but up good to prove it’s real

For the Love of Cod by Eric Dregni

University of Minnesota Press, 2021 | Hardcover: $22.95

Reviewed by Ailee Slater

Minnesota writer Eric Dregni is no stranger to Norway. It’s where his ancestors hail from, it’s where he spent his Fulbright Fellowship, and it’s where his son was born. But when Norway comes out #1 in the United Nations’ 2017 World Happiness Index, Dregni finds himself wondering: Is Norway really one of the happiest places on Earth? To investigate further, Dregni books a trip to Norway for himself and his son Elif.

For the Love of Cod is the story of Eric and Elif’s adventure in Norway, but it is also a frank, funny look at what makes this Scandinavian country unique. Part memoir and part travelogue, with plenty of humor and historical details to boot, For the Love of Cod takes readers on a vivid tour Norway’s people, landscape and culture. As Eric seeks to uncover why Norway has earned so many accolades for happiness—and what happiness even means—readers are treated to a thoughtful, laugh-out-loud adventure traversing the varied Norwegian landscape and covering everything from black metal music, to the complicated truth about the Vikings, to all the reasons why Norwegian home design is just plain weird.

Throughout the book, it never feels that Dregni is romanticizing Norway. While extolling the country’s long parental leave, low rates of violence and plentiful vacation days, he also covers the less rosy side of life: including the rising wealth gap, differing attitudes on immigration, and an economy largely based on oil. Rather than taking a steadfast view on any of these cultural arenas, Dregni deftly explores them through the lens of factual data, and the opinions of friends and strangers whom he and Elif meet along the course of their journey. The result is a delightfully informative narrative that’s both entertaining and insightful, without ever being heavy-handed.

Watershed: Attending to Body and Earth in Distress by Ranae Lenor Hanson

University of Minnesota Press, 2021 | Paperback: $19.95

Reviewer by Heidi Newbauer

The body is one. Writer, educator, and climate activist Ranae Lenor Hanson takes us with her as her body experiences its own crisis, type 1 diabetes, while weaving us through the climate changes she has seen since her childhood in the Minnesota woods. All the while, she connects us to other parts of the world through climate refugee stories: gently moving, compassionate.

Interwoven into these narratives of her life, she invites us to further nourish our ecosystems individually and collectively through poetic, meditative breaks from each chapter. These meditations teach us how to breathe again. They teach us how parts become whole, how wisdom carries us and heals, and how the simple things are the bigger things. She tells us, “Listen with a welcoming face so you come to know your neighbors” and “get to know a tree. Over time. Personally.”

Hanson’s experience with her type 1 diabetes parallels the breaking down of the world she sees around her, and how the diabetes epidemic has broken down generations who have struggled for traditions, lost in war and commercialism. She writes, “in some communities, more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native adults have type 2 diabetes. Why? Traditional lifestyles for those communities rely upon identification with the land and its inhabitants and upon the hunting and gathering of food” and “increasing evidence shows that endocrine disrupting chemicals may well be precipitating the development of diabetes.” The grief is unavoidable, she tells us. It is to be felt.

Even in this breaking down, she reminds us of the true cycles of healing and how hope is light and water a life force across the world. Hanson’s poetic weavings of stories and meditation give us a window into the power of our relationships. She shows us how gentle—and knowing—our individual and collective bodies truly are.  

Begin with a Bee by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root, Illustrated by Claudia McGhee

University of Minnesota Press, 2021 | Hardcover: $17.95

Reviewed by Annie Lindenberg

The story of Begin with a Bee is an educational one, summarized best perhaps by one of its own pages: “Next year’s bees begin with a bee.” Published in 2021 and written by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and Phyllis Root, this book follows the life cycle of one rusty-patched bee through the course of a single year. Our first pages start us in spring alongside the queen bee as she emerges to find pollen, and it’s near impossible from those first few pages to not enjoy the vivid images the book provides in tandem with the story.

Illustrated by Claudia McGehee, Begin with a Bee’s artistic value cannot be understated. Working in scratchboard, a medium that highlights the nature of the text with woodcut-like lines, McGehee makes the queen bee’s story come alive amongst the lively natural world. While at times the text itself may feel disjointed, most likely due to its educational value overriding the story’s flow, the illustrations step up and carry their weight. They keep the work pushing forward and provide pages that can be poured over to find new details each time, while allowing the reader time to digest the important science of the rusty-patched bumblebee (the first bee to appear on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species list).

This educational value is the true heart of this book, providing necessary background on an endangered species that can be understood by any age along with information on the native plants and wildlife bumblebees need for survival. After the story’s completion, there’s supplementary information on both the rusty-hatched bee and the things we can all do to ensure their survival. Begin with a Bee has the ability to teach parent and child alike about an important species. In collaboration with the detailed, dynamic illustrations, this book will surely be capable of being picked up multiple times—departing its worthwhile message with each rereading.

Vincent Rendoni

El Camino

Take it nice and fast, my father says.


I pull the El Camino out of the driveway. This is the first and last time I
will ever do this. The tío who is bad with money will leave it outside his
repair shop and it will never be seen again.


But this isn’t about the things we lost, but the things we had.


My father is in the passenger seat, drinking a tallboy of Tecate. It is
always cold and half-full. It will never run out. He hands me a sip and I
like it more than I want to admit.


I’m ten years old, doing twenty on the back roads near the airport. Too
young to drink, too young to drive, I guess. My father tells me this is the
day I become a man. This is something he decides.


Go faster, he says.

I wonder if this has to do with Abuelo dying.


I fear I will lose control. My father says I can’t, he won’t let me.


The police take notice. They pursue the ten-year-old suspect, white,
and the adult, brown, drinking in the passenger seat. I feel the cool air
through the vents. I feel my skin stick to the Naugahyde interior.


He turns on the radio and sings along. He is laughing, even though
nothing is funny.


The faster we go, the lighter we feel. I hear the crack of bullets over the
sounds of the Doobie Brothers, freight train running. They bounce off
the windows and frame. Not a scratch.


These fools, my father says, we are invincible here. We will never die.


Shit is getting serious. More blue. Helicopters. The evening news. All
talking about the El Camino that can’t be stopped.


Stay the course, mijo, my father says. You will know things others don’t.
You will be better. They will never take us alive.


They never did.

Vincent Antonio Rendoni is a Seattle-based writer. His work has previously appeared in Fiction Southwest, Sky Island Journal, Warm Milk, Burrow Press, and Atticus Review.

Derek Otsuji

A Meditation at Opae’ula

I no longer remember what I had come expecting to see,
but when I arrived at the trickling waterfall, where the fern
feathered and a single lehua ohia relaxed in plush bloom,


there was a pool that filmed the sky with its one cloud moving,
as on the mind’s blank screen, suggesting neither shape nor wisp
of dream, but seen cleanly—white bloom of vapor,
formless anatomy—


when the air unzipped and a denizen of the sun hovered above
the pool, its clear wings dusted with specks of light. Its eyes
were hived prisms, its body, a wand that cast a mesmeric spell


that enlivened fern and flower and the green-black sheen,
and I saw how it was all vibration, each drop in the pool
a bell’s note, and that the secret was to hum along with the
frequency.

Caroline Chavatel

Near-Nocturne for the Nearsighted

It was through birds, their names,
that I learned closeness. My father’s


presence, a bank vaulted shut, sealed
enclosure, arena of no light, fixed
in an after-houred sliver of what?


It was always like this: our funny game—
pointing to the egret, claiming egret!, then


heron! The cold graze of the binoculars’
metal just as guttural as the sound
of them hitting the deck table after


another sighting, a victory. It was
about the swipe of them, who could

reach the singular pair first
and correctly name the bird. It was always
orange then, sunsetted and warm


when their names huddled in the mud
of the soft summer marsh. It was through


their distance I learned how
to sharpen my focus, what wanted
me to name it and what did not. It was through


the naming that I learned this small
closeness, a point system for collecting.
I deemed the sandpiper favorite,


said I loved it. But as the sky dimmed, they
were out of sight, therefore out
of name’s reach, therefore gone.

Rebecca Suzuki

micro exchange

I am sitting at the table at my aunt’s, having a meal with my mother, sister, aunt, uncle, two cousins. It is the last meal before I leave Japan, and my aunt has made something elaborate, but I don’t remember what because she is always making elaborate meals. I am giddy with excitement during the meal, I am leaving for America tomorrow! I am seeing daddy tomorrow! We all talk about the departure, about the long plane ride, about the layover in Seoul, about our new life in America. My cousin asks, “Will we talk on the phone once you’re there?” and my mother answers, “Of course! All the time.” But then I think of something. I tell the table, laughing, “What if you guys call but daddy picks up the phone? He doesn’t speak Japanese, so it’ll be so awkward!” and the whole room goes silent. The smiles are wiped off, eyes drop from me to the dishes. It’s a strange reaction, I wonder if I’ve said something wrong, but what could I have said wrong? From what I remember, daddy didn’t speak any Japanese. My aunt is the first to speak after the silence. She says, “That’s a good point. How’s the food?” and the subject is dropped, and nobody tells me what I’ve said wrong. It is such a small exchange, a micro exchange, an exchange I should have forgotten a long time ago, but I remember it so clearly. I remember how the room went silent, cold, like a morgue, and I felt like I was the only person there. I remember how nobody knew what to say, including my mother. Nobody bothered to tell me that it would have been impossible for my father to have picked up the phone because he was dead.

Vincent Rendoni

El Camino

Take it nice and fast, my father says.


I pull the El Camino out of the driveway. This is the first and last time I
will ever do this. The tío who is bad with money will leave it outside his
repair shop and it will never be seen again.


But this isn’t about the things we lost, but the things we had.


My father is in the passenger seat, drinking a tallboy of Tecate. It is
always cold and half-full. It will never run out. He hands me a sip and I
like it more than I want to admit.


I’m ten years old, doing twenty on the back roads near the airport. Too
young to drink, too young to drive, I guess. My father tells me this is the
day I become a man. This is something he decides.


Go faster, he says.

I wonder if this has to do with Abuelo dying.


I fear I will lose control. My father says I can’t, he won’t let me.


The police take notice. They pursue the ten-year-old suspect, white,
and the adult, brown, drinking in the passenger seat. I feel the cool air
through the vents. I feel my skin stick to the Naugahyde interior.


He turns on the radio and sings along. He is laughing, even though
nothing is funny.


The faster we go, the lighter we feel. I hear the crack of bullets over the
sounds of the Doobie Brothers, freight train running. They bounce off
the windows and frame. Not a scratch.


These fools, my father says, we are invincible here. We will never die.


Shit is getting serious. More blue. Helicopters. The evening news. All
talking about the El Camino that can’t be stopped.


Stay the course, mijo, my father says. You will know things others don’t.
You will be better. They will never take us alive.


They never did.

an chang joon

ogeum

those who steal/
needles/
eventually steal/
oxen/


i think often about the two thieves. when i do, from somewhere behind
me (and when i say behind i mean it in every sense of the word, as in all
the things that are stretched thin and long behind my back, all of which
i have a name for, although not all of those names are in english.) a
ghostly willow cane arcs downward. i hear my father’s voice in the wells
of my mind. his korean plays at the same time as my translation of. a
bad doubling. the

inside of my left knee
spot right in the middle of my left leg
part that hurts most to get tattooed
valley of the shadow of death
unnamable bits of my body

clench and grow numb. only the left one.

there is no term in english for the inside of your knee.


a sokdam is kind of like a proverb, with the only difference being that it is
nothing like a proverb at all. proverb stems from pro, as in “forth” and verbum,
as in “word.” words put forward. sokdam also stems from two words: sok and
dam.


three years ago, i spoke enough korean to believe that sokdam meant “inside
wall” (i did not know that sok had other meanings beside inside, and dam could
mean more than wall) i know better now, know that it roughly translates to
words uttered in tradition but i am sick of roughly translating, it seems all i ever
fucking do is roughly translate and


how marginally easier all of this would be, if only you


spoke both korean and english
spoke the same amount of korean and english as i did
had the same spiderweb of collagen holding together old scars
mistranslated as i did
were me
also were an exhausted diplomat, running to and fro between two
camps and knowing that both sides have already set war in motion.

(language as less of a handshake and more of that same hand, slick with
coppery sweat and fiddling with the dial to see when the shells begin to
drop and you keep fucking up, you fuck up again and again, you can’t
find the right frequency, you cannot, and your children stare at you
terrified while an ad jingle for baking soda ekes from the speaker.)


i think often about the two thieves, a different pair this time. a different
doubling. i contemplate clambering over the wall because i am a thief.
only ever the one on the left. a different doubling still. (all bad.)


capitalize nothing because there is no capitalization in korean and
certainly not here; nothing special to being first. (did you know that all
korean letters are the same height? we stay within the walls here, inside
or otherwise.) i think about calling it procrustean, about showing off all
the words i know, but there is a p and that insatiable half millimeter is
unspeakable. today, i will not mind my ps and qs, i will turn a willow
cane to all the ps and qs of the world, the ys and js as well, until all their
legs, too, curl inward and they clutch at that unutterable part of their
bodies. only the left one.


in korean, when you tell someone hey that one nameless part of my legs
is numb,
it means that you are wracked with guilt.


when my father used to say the untranslated version of

those who steal/
needles/
eventually steal/
oxen/


i wanted to tell him that i stole nothing. that all i did was skip out on
church or ate too many braised quail eggs. i did not know that he meant
sinning began with very little things. i too was very little.


years later, i sit and wonder which of the two thieves i am, and then
wonder which of the two thieves i am, different ones this time. for years,
i think about how i would translate my father’s sokdam. cow would
have sufficed. oxen felt better. something sacrificial to the word ox.


when he put the cane away for the final time, i somehow knew that this
was the last time. i wondered whether it was because i quit stealing, or
because i’ve finally managed to steal an ox and there was nothing else
left to take. from just below my left thigh, an ache as gentle as a thief’s
hand on the lock.