A collection of poems explores loss and its aftermath with stark thoughtfulness.
The work of Chmielarz (Visibility: Ten Miles, 2015, etc.), an accomplished poet, has often been published in literary magazines; “On Green,” included here, won the Jane Kenyon Award from Water-Stone Review. This collection is arranged in three parts, each with its introductory poem: “At the Cave’s Entrance,” “The Widow’s House,” and “Tastes.” The first of these helps establish something about the speaker’s husband and their relationship, which gives force to later poems as they develop. He doesn’t like the cave’s darkness on his guided tour; “He’d had enough of that / as a refugee,” writes Chmielarz, deftly suggesting much more to that story. She uses enjambment to good effect, propelling the reader, like a descending tourist, down through the poem to an unexpected place: “No, caves offered no thrill / for him. Much warmer, // making his way through / the darkness inside me.” Those lines have the pride and wonder of someone who loves and is loved. But they are valedictory; the poems turn to illness, the writer’s awareness she will be alone, the funeral, the grief counseling, the loneliness. Throughout this fine collection, Chmielarz’s well-crafted lines get the most out of every word. They seem to place their feet with the stunned, careful precision of someone who is holding herself together with every resource she has. These resources include Chmielarz’s mastery of tone, through which she transforms unbearable grief into multilayered, quietly emotional, often ironic conclusions. For example, in “When Are You Coming Back? I’m Getting Tired of Waiting,” the speaker contrasts generic applies-to-everyone advice with the definite particularities of her husband—his forehead, for example, his frown, how he lifts a brow. The poem’s last lines are “And I’m to let you go? / Like some balloon? The grief counselor says yes. / Quietly yet firmly, yes. / I raise my chin and say nothing.” The saying is in these poems, which never wallow in self-pity but instead fearlessly probe bitterness, jealousy, undesired courage, and bleak longing with lapidary attention to language.
Spare, powerful, well-calibrated poems that perceptively anatomize grief.