In the heart of winter cold, February finds us celebrating the fire of love and its many permutations. Poet Glenna Luschei's two most recent books offer worthy explorations of that universal theme.
The first, Witch Dance New & Selected Poems (PRESA: S: PRESS, ROCKFORD, MI. Paperbound, 83 pages, $13.95. Published: 2010. Available: Check your local book stores, including Novel Experience in SLO)
Winter presses our hands
in homespun mitts.
Autumn is over.
We step the witch dance
dance of love and death.
Terns feed at the lake
on their flight from Alaska
and rain bites the quince.
Where are we going?
Are those daggers of geese
in the sky
Winter Tracks watercolor by Gene Elsdon
On this solemn note Luschei’s title poem from WITCH DANCE portends the importance of her subject matter. These poems are spare, yet vivid, power-packed. They sing to us the truth that there are no little lives—only universal themes; they are her themes. In this volume of 62 poems of poignancy and power she shares memories and unexpected loss, in 2009, of her husband, Bill, as well as the specter that shadows us all, especially during our late years.
Replete with flashbacks ("Roads to California"), dreams ("Linda-Lu’s Moon-Walk Dream"), creatures of the natural world ("June Bugs: The Year of the Magicicada"), myth ("Unicorn in Captivity), and relationships ("Granddaughters"), her work reveals a writer of acute observation and deep feeling whose work will touch anyone whose synapses are still firing.
Mining the depths of grief is a lonely task, but Luschei brings for us recognizable truths that sparkle like diamonds, shine like gold. From her poem, Grip: "Your hand slips/from mine like a salmon./Love of my life/Where is your run?/Is our course finished/now that our spawn is done?//Love of my life/death never loses a fish/but where is it taking us now/you upstream and me/down?//When I wake up/with sand in my wrist/I know/I’ve crept again to the sea/searching for your hand."
"Will I go gentle like the ones/who went before?" she asks in Standing in Line.
She knows the right questions to ask, and they will ring in our head for days. One last poem I want to mention out of all those that tempt me to sing their praises is "End of the Day," inspired by a "Painting by Gottardo Piazzoni," who sings, "My soul, a shepherd/knows the wind and the sun/and walks hand and hand/with the seasons/to follow and to watch." The final verse of her response is: "I move through landscapes of simple tone./It is spring and the sheep are newly shorn./I walk hand and hand with the seasons./This is how I want my days to end."
Glenna Luschei Reading
Salt Lick: A Retrospective of Poetry
(West End Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Paperbound, 117 pages, 96 poems, $14.95. Published: 2009. Available: Check your local book stores, including Novel Experience in SLO)
For upwards of forty-five years Glenna Luschei, poet laureate of San Luis Obispo County in 2000, has contributed to the literary arts of her country by publishing the poetry magazines Café Solo, Solo, and Solo Café, encouraging, supporting, nurturing and publishing the work of countless poets, both beginning and established . SALT LICK: A Retrospective of Poetry, reveals the brilliant writer of the small press scene, featuring poems from twenty-one of her books from 1967-2008 and five uncollected poems.
"Salt of the Earth" demonstrates this brilliance, beginning: "A child kicking through the prairie/buffalo grass and cactus/I discovered sculpture that cattle/polished with their tongues.//Salt lick, more delectable than ice/cream, also churned with salt,/more permanent than the blocks/of ice we carried home on the dray." In closing her song of salt, Luschei sings "I owe my life to salt but now pop/pills to drain it from my heart.//Salt flows back into the sea/where the halibut don’t mind/when it seeps into their eyes. It will create us/over and over again from scratch."
From the innocence of childhood to full maturity won only following the circuitous path on discovery’s paradoxical continuum: birth and death, marriage and divorce, triumph and despair, pain and peace, Luschei covers it all.
One of my favorites is "Rain Dance," a memory of events at her son’s wedding, "Twenty years of waiting for him/to apologize, to ask me to dance,/I asked him. . . ./And I forgave him,/understood why smoke/got in my eyes, why lovely things die,/why I loved him./The shine on our children’s faces/when they saw us dancing/made me grieve for our estrangement./Our children, with splits in their heads/like Frankenstein’s monster, would not heal,/become whole, until I merged with the other/half of the nucleus. I grieved/that I withheld this peace from them.//And we danced in the rain until dawn/until the bride was green with dollar bills." Such candor and intimacy isn’t easily come by. It is one of the hallmarks of this poet’s work.
In "I Want To Be Your Poet" Luschei sings for all poets when she says: "I want to be the poet/who invites you up the sweet-/smelling stairs. . . .//I’m not afraid of garlic breath./I’ll deliver CPR./From your garden I’ll pull out the onion/with a head like Einstein./Get ready for surprise!//I’ll whisk you through/the silk & barbed wire./I want to be your poet, your lover." We can only respond, You have been our poet, lover for these many years, Glenna. Thank you for the poems. Thank you for the memories. SALT LICK is a triumph and so are you.
For Gene, in celebration of our golden wedding anniversary
This partnership is ore we have mined
through our calendar of years together.
Love and choosing to love
constants sustaining us through
births and deaths, joys and sorrows
of every description as we continue
learning to discern between the real stuff
and fool’s gold. The spellbinding song
of the canary in the mine rides the world’s
bewildering currents and unpredictable winds.
It reassures us as we renew our commitment
and marvel at how many rich veins of gold
we have discovered together.
Little wonder, then,
that you are the gold
in my golden years.