Author: Smith, Jordan
Date published: January 1, 2011
The Sun-fish by Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin. Wake Forest University Press, 65 pp., $12.95. Love, labor, loss. On a foggedin bridge in Ni Chuilleanáin' s "A Bridge Between Two Counties," a woman, hand in hand with a "well-wrapped" child, hands this child to "a glove and sleeve" emerging from the mist, and to witness love's loss, to peer at what won't fully reveal itself, is our labor, laid on us not by the poet, but by love that must find its way between losses, as the woman and the child "dodged left / Then right, weaving / Between the barrels and the planks / Placed there to slow the traffic..." Or, in "On Lacking the Killer Instinct," the poet, walking the hills in flight from her father's dying, thinks of a hare pursued by greyhounds, the dogs "tumbling over, absurdly gross, / While the hare shoots off to the left, her bright eye / Full not only of speed and fear / But surely in that moment a glad power," and remembers her father's story of escaping soldiers during a war, "Such gladness, he said, cornering in the narrow road," and our work here is to hold in mind both the adrenalin ecstasy of escape and the consequences of a failure that can only be postponed, that finally demands witness. Or, in "Vertigo," when two sisters accompany (reluctantly- "How did such smart women acquire such a mother?") their mother on the climb to a shrine at the cliff's edge, our task and theirs is to stand "like armed angels guarding each side / Of the path to the edge, where everything pours away."
And this is Ni Chuilleanáin' s work as well, performed with a love of words' precision and of the way precision's selective focus plays advocate for the world's ambiguities.
* Jordan Smith
JORDAN SMITH's new collection of poems, The Light in the Film, will be published by the University of Tampa Press. He teaches at Union College.