restricted access The Eye Divine Measuring
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The Eye Divine Measuring
House of Sugar, House of Stone

Emily Pérez

The Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado Sate University
88 Pages; Print, $16.95

inline graphic House of Sugar, House of Stone casts its spell wide into the darkness at the heart of mothering, as if to reduce the power of that darkness by naming it. The first poem, "Lullaby," in the tradition of Rock-a-bye Baby, is not especially comforting, beginning the book with the lines: "Where is the girl who hid in the woods / when wolves came." We get the sense there will be no sentimentality in this book. Emily Pérez uses all the old gifts of poetry—repetition, alliteration, rhyme and meter—to help us navigate the ferocity she approaches. Listen to how the second poem, "Under the Roof," begins: and continues on in one long sentence for nineteen lines, her syntax sluicing over line breaks, urged on by repetition and alliteration, slowed by rhymes. I want to follow this beauty even as we come under "the eye divine measuring / each gasp and murmur" onto what "lies shut, / what's still / beneath each breath and shudder." Pérez warns us that she will not look away from the difficult truths to which her poetic craft leads her.

Under the roof, the shingled roof, nounder the eaves, the leaf-clawed eaves,no, under the clouds collecting slowsloughing glass, glitter missives nowunder the evergreens that growover the snow where wolf feet go

Many of Pérez's poems witness the damage we do even as we try to protect. In Mother Love, the nature show pans away from a chick that doesn't survive the adult penguins' attempt to save it, but Pérez refuses to look away. "I know that in my life the camera keeps on rolling, leaving a de-feathered thing, held close too long, in focus, limp and quivering."

Pérez approaches mothering's darkness by reimagining the archetypal fairy tale of parental abandonment, weaving poems spoken by the characters of Hansel and Gretel through the book. In "A New Mother Discovers Emptiness," the speaker inhabits both a contemporary mother and the stepmother of the old story as she says, "That winter I resigned my role as hope" and then seeks solace in the "darkness of the woods" and the "distance of the stars" and tries to share that solace with the children by pushing them toward the door, locking them out, and the poem ends:

and to those who wonder what ifthey're trembling with fear?I say, then at last they're full.

Thus, she returns to the hope she resigned at the poem's beginning, albeit now a mother's painful hope that whatever she has given her children, good or bad, will somehow serve them.

In another poem, a grown-up Gretel seeks to forgive her step-mother, recognizing that "perhaps she cut / to motherhood's first care—to endure, / to hone that sharp surviva…." Though Pérez understands the abandoning mother, she doesn't forget the violence, continuing with "fingernails to the board, / teeth to the clean, white bone."

In the fairy tale, the children's situation goes from bad to worse, from abandonment by one woman to the threat of being eaten by another. In "Hungry," the witch speaks about deboning a chicken: "to snap a skeleton, to separate / a skull's rope-bridge from the fine / cervical spine, a shoulder-ball / from glove-like socket, / …to feel the force / that throbbed inside my slender thumbs …" This precise description reminds us, most of whom have experienced tearing apart a chicken, that this violence is disgusting, even horrifying, and yet somehow pleasurable, and it leads us to an uncomfortable identification with the witch when she says: "I was not the first / to learn to love is to create / but also to consume."

Not all the poems are this dark and self-incriminating. Pérez also shows us the amazement, the terrifying joy, of motherhood. In "Nose Tip," the speaker addresses...