Winner of the Colorado Book Award in Poetry (2018)
In this fourth book in a series of award-winning survival narratives, Dungy writes positioned at a fulcrum, bringing a new life into the world even as her elders are passing on. In a time of massive environmental degradation, violence and abuse of power, a world in which we all must survive, these poems resonate within and beyond the scope of the human realms, delicately balancing between conflicting loci of attention. Dwelling between vibrancy and its opposite, Dungy writes in a single poem about a mother, a daughter, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, brittle stars, giant boulders, and a dead blue whale. These poems are written in the face of despair to hold an impossible love and a commitment to hope. A readers companion will be availabe at wesleyan.edu/wespress/readerscompanions.
Poet and editor Dungy (Smith Blue) eschews romanticism for clear-eyed reflection on the nature of survival. In her work, what it means to truly be alive seeps into even the simplest of actions, such as contemplating the peculiarities of Mother Nature or the responsibilities of newfound motherhood. In these poems the past often feels like a ghost that is never too far away, no matter how hard one attempts to bend to the will of the present. In "Conspiracy," Dungy writes, "Last week, a woman smiled at my daughter and I wondered/ if she might have been the sort of girl my mother says spat on my aunt/ when they were children in Virginia all those acts and laws ago." For the poet, motherhood evokes a heightened sense of protective anxiety, coupled with fear of predators and outside threats. It becomes as much about survival as it is about nurturing. On the other hand, Dungy's collection acknowledges that where there is life, death isn't too far behind. In "One to Watch, and One to Pray," a baby is passed back and forth over the deathbed of a loved one, symbolizing the circle of life. Dungy's poems depict a universe of clockwork precision whose logic can be too complex for mortal minds.