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  • The Imperfect Landscape
  • Jan Garden Castro (bio)
Hello, the Roses. Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. New Directions 112pages; paper, $16.95.

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s Hello, the Roses is an oblique, succinct, mysterious title that illustrates one of this poet’s specialties—changing direction and juxtaposing unique thoughts—here, going from direct address to roses. Possibly she is addressing both roses and readers and co-joining them, making the reader a confidante. The title poem unfurls the metaphor. Part 1 opens:

My soul radially whorls out to the edges of my body, according to the same laws

by which stars shine, communicating with my body by emanation.

Part 1 is a series of unrolling thoughts that ends:

I’m saying physical perception is the data of my embodiment, whereas for the

rose, scarlet itself is matter.

Part 2 begins:

The rose communicates instantly with the woman by sight, collapsing its

boundaries, and the woman widens her boundaries.

The parts quoted here seem to contrast women and roses, emphasizing the woman’s soul, her ability to widen her boundaries, and the tactile, olfactory, and aesthetic nuances of being a woman. At the same time, other parts of this poem and other poems in the volume implicitly capture congruencies and the processes of opening in harmony with nature, such as,

The rose symbolizes the light of this self-affinity.

This poem closes:

I can intentionally engage with the coherence of light beams, instant as though

lightless, or the colored light of a dimension not yet arrived, as our hearts are not

outside affinity with respect to wavelength, shaping meaning, using the capacity

for feeling to sense its potency in a rose and to cultivate inter-being with summer


The only part of this sentence I don’t understand is “instant as though lightless.” However, I’m sure it’s there for a good reason. The entire line, including “the colored light of a dimension not yet arrived,” alerts me to the narrator’s ability to tune into spectrums of light intuitively. This sentence goes on to suggest that our hearts can sense and cultivate “inter-being with summer perfume,” which says to me that we have to go inside ourselves to find fragrant connections outside of ourselves. Berssenbrugge’s language suggests new ways of making inner and outer correspondences.

Her language is poetry and prose at the same time. It is impossible to summarize the varied ways that each word, such as “light,” is used throughout this 112-page collection or even in the 56 lines in “Hello, the Roses.” Each poem is driven by a philosophical or meditative quality and each thought somehow relates to the theme as a whole. Hello, the Roses is organized in three sections of seven, six, and five poems, most with many stanzas.

Wherever you turn in Hello, the Roses, something mystical is going on that involves perceptions of nature and animals. Hints or direct images of flowers appear in most poems, along with rose skies and rose sand. “Pure Immanence” hints,

There’s no time, so at sunset love from others

can look like one rose.

In fact, even poems for novelist Leslie Silko, one featuring artist Kiki Smith, and one for her husband artist Richard Tuttle give only the slightest hints of human presence. Instead, the five-stanza poem for Silko, “Turquoise Shade,” takes us into the Sonoran desert location dense with shade yet alive with [End Page 18] cacti, quail, woodpeckers, and fireflies—the heart of the wilderness where Silko lives. The closing poem “Immortals Having a Party” suggests that the narrator considers her family to be living a kind of special existence:

We say time contemporary with creation, our births, the birth of our daughter

was constitutively blessed by the presence of gods, say goddess, divines.

Reading each poem and the whole collection is like being immersed in a dream consciousness and in a lush, generative natural world that is not quite real. There are no named enemies from deer ticks to other deadly pests, very few hints of conflict, no anger. There is one four-part poem, “Her Calendar,” that has pain from “acute night illness” in it, but...


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pp. 18-19
Launched on MUSE
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