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colorado review 160 max to the work, perhaps intentionally. In a 2007 interview with Philip Metres, H. L. Hix admits that he has been “working for a long time on the modest task of rewriting the Bible.” The poem “According to H.” speaks to the anonymous scribe of historic biblical documentary hypotheses: “I felt obliged, Theophilus , to pass along this I love of what I can’t believe.” The poems in this section are re-visions of Judeo-Christian texts including lyrical devotions and didactic historic narratives. Conceived as modern translations, H’s “parables” are peopled with battered wives, tattooed punks, “moving companies short on help,” and real estate brokers who reward risk-taking. Lyrical forms prevail in poems such as “Hymn,” in which the call and response form of community prayer describes dance as the synthesis of the physical and spiritual self: When I listen, what I hear replaces love. Amen. When I sing, my voice replaces grief. Amen. When I dance, my body replaces grief. Amen. “Grace that gives grace does so by dancing,” he asserts between the lines. “Dancing gives what even grace withholds.” In “Conclusion” he states his paradoxical purpose and anticlimax : Beyond what is written here, much else might be. Of the word that is its own beginning The world could not contain books enough. Finally, in “Protevangelium” the poet “Harvey” intrudes to “praise what I can, as I am able,” thus completing the arc of his self-sustained trajectory and poetic inquiry of consciousness, materiality, and spirituality. Secret of Breath, by Isabelle Baladine Howald (Translated by Elena Rivera) Burning Deck Press, 2008 reviewed by Elizabeth Robinson Isabelle Baladine Howald’s Secret of Breath opens onto an apocalyptic scene: “Fleeing as quickly as possible, leaving clothing, 161 Book Notes furniture, / closet doors open, chairs overturned, no matter.” In the rupture of this opening, it appears that the secret of breath, so to speak, is a kind of breathlessness, the desperate gasp that takes in air piecemeal in a world fraught with danger and loss, “one deprived of everything.” To apprehend anything at all here is a mode of survival. Page by page, the book, which might best be described as an extended prose poem, formally enacts the precariousness that its narrative implies but does not delineate. Small amounts of text sit high on one page, while the subsequent text is placed at the bottom of the next page. In this way, the rising and falling rhythms of the poem become visually dynamic . A particularly effective example of this occurs in the transit between the top of page 12 and the base of page 13. On page 12 one finds “Severed. / Ancient welts that nothing has diminished / which rising // swerve. // That which has always been/separates us / all.” Considerable empty page space ensues until the bottom of page 13, where we see “‘Dazzled and then nothing,’ he told me after having fallen.” Here the reader finds that the rising image is one of violence: welts. The impact is severance, isolation that “separates us / all.” The expanse of white space that intervenes between this and the next segment of the poem works as a literal plummeting, for the speaker has fallen. His utterance is its own erasure: “Dazzled and then nothing.” The thematics of the book, then, center around fallenness and the danger of obliteration. This tension is foregrounded by the precipice of the page. It is also heightened by the ongoing tension of immanence or palpability and its other: disappearance , nothingness. Over and over again, the senses are invoked—touch, vision, hearing—only to be met by the peril of loss and nothingness: Not to know, to think at the edge of oblivion, seated in the snow, it too inaccessible, and asking: but what, and of whom. colorado review 162 The existential bleakness of the query coupled with narrative markers that suggest the catastrophic make this an unnerving book to read. Howald is skillful at offering just enough of the concrete world that the reader is jarred by its confiscation. Even the snow becomes “inaccessible” and with it the world where “what” and “whom” might otherwise have stable resonance and identity. The pitch of the tension...


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pp. 160-163
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