Custer presents a luminescent poetry debut set in a Midwestern landscape.
Over the course of 61 poems, the Indiana-based poet envelops readers in free verse that evokes images of farms, barns, cornfields, and livestock. They exist in a place where residents “drink whiskey / and say crick,” compost smells like death, a local possum gets nicknamed George Jones, and women knead dough at kitchen windows. This rustic setting, described delicately, is Custer’s turf, and she infuses her homeland with awe-inspiring expansiveness in lines such as “whisper good farmland / yawning before you like a parable” and “tonight it’s all moonscape / and drought-starved grass.” The author doesn’t ignore the sinister and sorrowful sides of people and nature, however, as she describes a gutted yearling (“dead eyes wide, front hooves scraping / the slatted floor”), the weather (“a repetition of lies”), and a man “standing / like a lament.” Along with these visceral details of people and places, she also delves within, seeking a spiritual source: “God / is in the monotony we might worship / if we could just learn to sit still.” In her desire to make prayer just as tangible as the worms a speaker digs up from the ground, she writes, “I want to find prayer in a hole in the dirt, in the emptiness of a / moment somewhere, I want to hold it again, if fearfully.” Poems such as “Colossus” and “Dope Sick Monday” veer into sociopolitical territory and briefly threaten to interrupt the collection’s dreamy progression. Overall, though, Custer’s poetry proves sparse but fierce; tender in its portraiture (such as a speaker’s sister “pretend-napping naked in the hay”) but brutally blunt when it has to be: “you fucked me for thirty-eight minutes / the exact length / of history’s shortest war.” The depictions of Middle America will resonate with those who’ve experienced that landscape firsthand and also appeal to those just vicariously passing through. It’s a journey that readers won’t soon forget.
A powerful, picturesque take on rural life from an authoritative new voice.