- Perfect and Imperfect
Donna Baier Stein
86 Pages; Print, $14.00
Hanging Loose Press
56 Pages; Print, $18.00
It is almost shocking at the current moment to find a book of poems in which happiness reigns. Yet I stumbled on two this year, both, interestingly, written by seasoned editors. End of the Business Day is by Robert Hershon, the longtime co-editor of Hanging Loose Press who also served as executive director of The Print Center for over thirty years. Letting Rain Have Its Say is by Donna Baier Stein, who is the founding poetry editor of the Bellevue Literary Review and also founded and publishes the literary journal, Tiferet.
In Letting Rain Have Its Say, Baier Stein, who is also the author of three previous books (one nonfiction, one fiction, and a poetry chap) rhapsodizes on the utter bliss of marriage and then gently mourns the stilled life of loss in its wake, which still somehow seems cast in golden light. She finds beauty in the quotidian moments of her family and beginnings, and she finds mystery and delight in her travels to other places. But in every single poem—joyful or pained—there is a turning toward unbearable beauty that is impossible to ignore. Over every cobweb of the heart there is a strand of sunshine in these poems. In these times,
when the daily news alone knocks one down, it feels refreshing to turn to other matters: origins, love found and lost, one's placement in the world. There was only one poem I found in the collection that specifically references the current political moment and the angst we share now, and that is a good thing.
There are three sections in this book, one about family ties, "For We are Kin"; one about love and loss of love, "Wooing Lady Luck"; and, a final section, "This Meditation," in which it seems the poet steps back a bit to put the personal into the context of otherness and the larger world.
The poems about family freeze time in the era of that almost feel lifted from an afternoon in a Norman Rockwell exhibit or a craft museum. There is haunting poem about an aunt with superstitions about cow's hooves and the thickness of rabbit fur, a sentimental poem about fishing with a father, a poem about watching a son ride a carousel. There are lyric images of sewing and embroidery in a number of these poems, a great grandmother stitches Dakota Star, Queen's Delight, and Bird's Eye View pattern quilts; she recalls nuzzling her mother's "dream-embroidered bodice," and, in the poem "Cross-stitch," we meet a whole circle of silent sewing women, where "silver needle dives" pull "threads of stories." In the poem "Don't Listen to Me" she warns us, apparently, that she cannot be trusted to deliver anything but beauty and an almost saccharine version of her youth in which her "black and white saddle shoes / scraped an impossible sky." "Don't imagine that / a Midwestern childhood / can be anything other / than perfect," she warns.
That sense of a lived perfection extends right into the poems about her marriage. In "I Travel East, Marry, Buy a Cabin," a road is "lined with dogwoods," hills are "freckled with cows," and "the Love's fishing pond" is "lively with trout." It's Eden, redux, (and even when it dissipates, the beauty lingers). [End Page 20]
Many of the poems in this collection share this temperament. Life is glorious, "delightful, bracing, ever-lasting," Stein tells us. Only it isn't, because by page fifty-one, we reach the poem "Cover-Ups." There we learn her love "never listened" to her chagrin, and while we see the marriage stumble and fail, that dreamy creampuff of love lost persists. She spends time in a number of these poems admiring what was. It isn't ennui so much as a happiness about her sadness. In the poem "The Year I Didn't...