Win­dow Left Open

by Jen­nifer Grotz, Gray­wolf Press, 64 pages

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - Win­dow Left Open.

The poet Jen­nifer Grotz makes fruit come to life. There is some­thing of Cézanne in her treat­ment of fruit — you can reach for her apri­cots, bruises and all, while she also gets us to con­sider what it means to be “ripe.” The poem “Apri­cots” is in­cluded in her re­fresh­ing new book,

See­ing and reg­is­ter­ing what the nar­ra­tor sees are self-con­scious acts in these po­ems. “The For­est” be­gins thus: “Dur­ing the day I have watched them stand around and chew the yel­low grass,/the long­suf­fer­ing cows.” The nar­ra­tor at­tempts, im­age by im­age, to com­pre­hend a nat­u­ral world we too of­ten glaze over. “The Moun­tain” be­gins in a sim­i­larly self-aware fash­ion: “No mat­ter how long I looked, I couldn’t see it all,/much less un­der­stand it.” The poem ends with the nar­ra­tor telling us that she looked so much “just to try to tell you what the sun did to it. And the clouds.”

Grotz per­ceives the world with sur­pris­ing earnest­ness, and she ad­mits fail­ure when she can’t get past the im­age. The sen­sory hon­esty of her lan­guage in­vites us in, as do her neatly trimmed sen­tences — there’s no weedy im­agery here that chokes the path. There are, how­ever, sur­prises: Phrases such as “per­fectly use­less con­cen­tra­tion” or “psy­che­delic pony­tail of feath­ers” are not so dense that they can’t roll off the tongue, yet they are curvy enough to keep us reread­ing the lines and lead us, when we least ex­pect it, to a mo­ment of clar­ity. This jux­ta­po­si­tion of sim­plic­ity and sud­den in­sight is rem­i­nis­cent of Sufi po­ems. The poem “Locked,” about the hu­man heart, es­pe­cially re­calls the Sufi poet Hafiz: “be­cause God only loves the strong thief/I mean the man who breaks his heart for God.”

The po­ems glide from woods to cob­ble­stone paths. Grotz en­coun­ters a pea­cock in Europe, and she asks the reader what to make of him and what to make of the poem. And so she changes the game, break­ing “A Poem About a Pea­cock” open. “And should the poem zoom out to his­tory? For the pea­cock is only here be­cause cas­tles and monas­ter­ies al­ways had pea­cocks, just look at the fres­coes in the re­fec­tory.” The poem brings to mind the Flan­nery O’Con­nor es­say “The King of the Birds” (from Mys­tery and Man­ners: Oc­ca­sional Prose), which has a deeper knowl­edge of that bird. O’Con­nor’s pea­cocks trav­eled by crate from Florida to her Ge­or­gia farm, and she ended up with a collection of no less than 40: “Fre­quently the cock com­bines the lift­ing of his tail with the rais­ing of his voice. He ap­pears to re­ceive through his feet some shock from the cen­ter of the earth, which trav­els up­ward through him and is re­leased: Eee-ooo-ii! Eee-ooo-ii! To the me­lan­choly this sound is me­lan­choly and to the hys­ter­i­cal it is hys­ter­i­cal. To me it has al­ways sounded like a cheer for an in­vis­i­ble pa­rade,” O’Con­nor writes.

Grotz’s po­ems are keenly ob­served, but there’s also some­thing fleet­ing about them, as though the nar­ra­tor is a passerby rather than some­one who lives in the vis­tas she de­scribes. They work best, not sur­pris­ingly, when she is in her own emo­tional ter­rain, when the po­ems ex­ude that feel­ing of a woman who re­tains her girl­ish be­ing — who watches and watches, de­cid­ing what to make of the world she finds her­self in.

“The Whole World Is Gone” is a poem in a dif­fer­ent reg­is­ter. It knows the nar­ra­tor’s heart bet­ter than O’Con­nor knew her 40 pea­cocks. “What I do alone, lov­ing him in my mind. Try­ing not to let imag­i­na­tion win over re­al­ity. Hurtling through the night, a pas­sion so spent be­comes a fact one ob­serves.” Here is a poem that weaves its way into your heart and be­comes some­thing akin to a bal­lad. — Priyanka Ku­mar

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