Houston's verses differ in style and length, from succinct short poems to long personal narratives and ballads. Throughout this welter of diversity, however, her voice remains distinctively her own. Often the sheer pleasure of playing with language is evident, as in the short poem "The Same": "Five white petals, flower with a gold eye / riding the dark stream; on the bank nearby / the fisherman who cannot wait / reels in his line and eats the bait." Other short poems, such as "Scales," contain koan-like innuendoes ("I came in from the garden— / that moon, it was not hidden— / and all I had was taken, / or all I had was given"). In some of the longer poems, Houston reworks legend and ballad with some startling twists. In "The Ant and the Grasshopper," for instance, the fable's moral is turned around more than once. The grasshopper is welcomed into the ant's abode, rather than turned away, but the poem's ending is mysterious: "So into that frenzied darkness, the close clay, / the grasshopper dragged the shapeless weight of his heart, door fast on the day; / and the wild executor of the year's / unalterable will still laughing. See his tears." The 17 poems in the final section (1989-98) are perhaps the most personal, blending journeys, places, and relationships. Underlying many of them is a deep sense of loss: "Dead brown wet bracken's / ruined rafters grid the path / each step I take breaks."
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