Philosophical, narrative free verse on life in the desert.
Nominally a book of nouns—the volume’s three division headings are People, Places and Things—Kelley’s poetry is really about present participles. Life in the desert is one of constant motion: “raising children / sweeping floors / milking cows / living lives of seeming desolation”; watching and wishing; and, all too often, of “leaving the land” and “losing it all.” Kelley’s work emphasizes that relentless struggle is as much a part of the desert as wind and sand, describing the setting as a “barren land” where “men die for water” because “sometimes it rains / sometimes flowers bloom / sometimes little tufts of grass / reach skyward. // But mostly it mocks / the dry cracked earth / and steams its way / back into the sky.” An all-encompassing context, the desert never functions as mere backdrop; rather, it infiltrates all, sometimes quite literally, as when the “winds blow / off the Rockies / leaving dirt on the floor, / in the bed, / on the old flowered sofa, / settling softly on the dishes.” Nor are the human inhabitants unaffected. Under the unfiltered glare, men live harsh lives marked by violent ritual, while women labor quietly and unceasingly. Kelley’s portrayals are hardly one-dimensional, however. Her poems capture a complicated, beautiful interplay of human and natural forces. Each of her subjects, no matter how unforgiving the circumstances, “grows into a desert bloom, fragile, beautiful, human.” With such an emphasis on finding meaning in daily activity, it’s appropriate that her mostly unembellished poetry tends toward narrative, marked by short, free-verse lines with common metrical patterns. Visual imagery complements the author’s atmospheric photography. Though occasionally clichéd—an old cowboy’s face is “etched in leather” and wild mustangs sport “flowing manes”—Kelley’s unique explorations into the intersections of ecology and identity make her well worth the read.
Patient, honest investigations of the places where external environment and personal identity clash and reshape one another.