A poet attuned to both the past and the present persistently reminds readers of the power of now.
The Italian author Cesare Pavese once said, “We do not remember days; we remember moments.” So much of a person’s experience boils down in retrospect not to long spans of time but to specific instants. Readers don’t recall the semesters abroad, but they retain their first view of the Seine at dusk. They don’t remember their maternity leaves, but they recall—in startling detail—the first time their children lifted their heads off a pillow. Such insights are not lost on Goka (Chrysalis, 1977), whose best poems both capture and flesh out individual moments—many of them domestic. To wit, here is “Morning”: “Bird voices celebrate morning, / Water boils. Child sleeps / and husband and cat pursue / their business outside. / The crimson flower blooms.” So much detail is packed into this brief, haikulike stanza; so many characters—from the husband to the cat to the flower—spring into being. The piece “Janigro’s Concert” gives readers another slice of life, this time lit by the sun’s rays blazing through the kitchen window: “The cello speaks a language / Other than English. / The thermostat’s at 69. / Outside the sun is obvious, triumphant and yells / 'Blue Sky Café.' / I’m into Lipton’s tea with milk. / Talk to me while I wash the dishes.” The energy of these lines comes from the verbs; everything—“speaks,” “is,” “talk,” “wash”—is in present tense, and in picking these words, Goka invites her audience to enter into the scene as she sets it. The effect is simultaneously striking and calming. By asking readers to reflect on these tiny pieces of the mundane, the talented poet asks them also to remember how much power resides within the mundane. The collection, Goka’s second, is split into six sections: “Home,” “Animals,” “Places,” “Riddles,” “Caffeine and Wine,” and “Family.” These are some of the most basic categories of human experience, but she imbues all of them with insight, wisdom, and joy.
Goka writes with quiet insistence in this accomplished poetry collection.