You arrive at my altar
with no idea
what it means to worship--to adore.
You haven't even learned it:
ecstasy and suffering
make the same face.
--from "The Offering"
May Day is both a distress call and a celebration of the arrival of spring. In this rich and unusually assured first collection, the poet Gretchen Marquette writes of the losses of a brother gone off to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a great love--losses that have left the world charged with absence and grief. But there is also the wonder of the natural world: the deer at the edge of the forest, the dog reliably coaxing the poet beyond herself and into the city park where by tradition every May Day is pageantry, a festival of surviving the long winter. "What does it mean to be in love?" one poem asks. "As it turns out, / the second best thing that can happen to you / is a broken heart."
May Day introduces readers to a new poet of depth and power.
In this precise first collection, Marquette writes around the subject of loss of brothers, lovers, and selves as a means to understand its parameters and reach. Many poems embody a composed stillness that can feel like an observation made in anticipation of a drawing or painting. Marquette nimbly fashions arresting imagery: across the chest of a beloved "burst a sash/ of gold chrysanthemum," while elsewhere the ventricles of an exposed doe heart suck a vivisectionist's fingers "like women// or infants." The poems' speakers often lie frozen in wait, but the world that Marquette conveys is alive with wild and domestic fauna, totems of the blood and warmth of humans' animal nature. Deer appear often, and memories of a familiar dog, trusting and unconditional, traverse the poems. Though the poems are narrative, the collection's timeline is shuffled, making time itself into something circular and winding; one minute a brother is present, and yet the next "He was already less ours." That nonlinearity can also be seen in a poem about the Andromeda Galaxy that shifts perspective from the sky to an open wound in the mouth: "The hole in my jaw has clotted/ with something from a star." As she explores longing and want, Marquette deftly navigates the infinite as well as the small and local.