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by Patty Seyburn

Pub Date: May 15th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-63534-929-0
Publisher: Finishing Line Press

This collection examines tradition, family, mahjong, and more in lyric poems.

Seyburn (English/California State Univ., Long Beach; Perfecta, 2014, etc.) has previously published many of this collection’s pieces in literary journals. The title refers to delivery services—generally for large, heavy objects—that stop at one’s front door. This concept connects to “Davenport,” one of several prose poems in this book, which begins: “When I asked the men to bring my couch inside, they shook their heads: threshold delivery, ma’am and I pictured them lovingly carrying my movable the way a bride once was hoisted.” The image of a couch being lifted recalls a Jewish bride being elevated in a chair amid celebration. From here, the poem, as if to take over from the deliverymen, lifts each image forward and links it with new ones. Finally, says the speaker, “I cannot run as fast now but have much better endurance,” suggesting what eventually lies over the threshold. This poem is in the first of the book’s three sections, which is often haunted by themes of night, memory, and loss, and the speaker’s mother is a recurring figure. Despite these serious associations, the poems also show sly wit, as when the speaker imagines her mom impatiently waiting in the afterlife’s anteroom: “Lend a mirror so she can put on / her face and bring a little artifice / with her.” The poem closes by considering the temporary nature of liminality and of crossing from life to death: “If you never had a foyer, // you’d imagine it / more grand than it was: really, it was / just a threshold, a place / to arrive, pause, abandon.” In the middle section, “Mah Jongg: An Homage,” the poet reflects on a game that’s popular with older Jewish women, examining mahjong’s images, rules, history, and lingo as well as the nature of luck. She links these elements to a problem that Jewish people have often been forced to confront throughout history: how to handle the cards that are dealt to you. These thoughtful, smart poems unveil layers of imagery and significance: “Every mahjj tile, symbolic. / Sometime you wish they, along with everything else, could mean less.” But the tiles don’t mean less, requiring constant vigilance: “The goal is to improve your hand. // The goal is self-improvement.” The final section’s poems again conjure the speaker’s mother as well as painful memories, psychic scars, and the need to speak out: “I do not forget, this is one / of my great gifts,” says one poem; in another, even “the angel of silence…wants to live aloud.” The urgency of this need comes out in several poems, as in the final piece, in which the speaker’s mom, Shirley, is given the closing lines: “no sound is dissonant…which tells of Life.” Fittingly, “Life” is the closing word of this collection—an affirmation that the poet earns by honestly engaging with the specifics of memory, both collective and personal.

Well-crafted, sensitive poems that movingly convey liminal experiences.