The Wind Blows Through the Doors
of My Heart
Review by LouAnn Muhm
Writing a review of a posthumous collection from a well-loved poet is a daunting task. What is there to say that is not elegiac praise? How to know which poems are as the poet conceived them, and which are constructed from unfinished notes and drafts? There is an unevenness in this collection. Is it due to the untimely death of the poet before the collection was finished? Could it be showing the poet’ s descent toward her apparent suicide? There is no way to know.
The poems that are best in this collection, and they are many, show “things cry[ing] out to one another, to the bad time [that] blessed us and then went away” as Karen Blixen wrote, and Digges (or her editors?) quoted in the epigraph to the book. The poem “now we are nine,” for example, deals with the death of the eldest brother of ten siblings. The poem is as brutal in its grief as it is tender in its memory:
“How beautiful the way he shook his hair,
swam us ashore, smeared greenish mud against the sun
onto our faces, onto his.”
The brother is the savior, the Merlin, the leader of this “wedding train of vagabonds.” The memories of the orchard, of the “[b]liss of dew before Missouri heat” are juxtaposed with images of Everett, this lost brother, falling “head first onto a marble floor” and lying alone, dead or dying, for six hours: “Stone the wife. Where was she all those hours?/Stone the son who died and robbed our brother of his will/to live.” Then all of these arresting images, all of this artistry and beautiful diction, come to the awkwardly-worded conclusion: “Too tired we were to jump the tractor, catch the store, nor did he stop, for our sakes, that we must/do so.” These last lines seem out of alignment with the diction and the rhythm of the rest of the poem. Did Digges want it that way? Are the lines meant to jar us, the way Everett’s death jarred her? As with several of the poems in this collection, I am haunted by the idea that perhaps this poem wasn’t finished. Perhaps another hand came in to close the lid of this particular jewel box.
Uneven moments aside, this collection is incandescent with grief and wonder. The image from the poem “the birthing” of the speaker and her husband stopping on the way to an awards banquet to deliver a struggling cow of her half-born calf, then running “to get our coats, mine a green velvet cloak,/and his a tuxedo jacket…to rub the new one dry” will
forever be in my memory as an impossible act of compassion. The final poem of the book, “write a book a year” will haunt me; this lost voice:
“I want the dark back, the bloody well of it,
my face before the fire,
or lie alone on the cold stone and find a way
to sleep awhile, wake clear and wander.”
Safe travels, Deborah. We will carry your words with us.
LouAnn Muhm is a poet and teacher from northern Minnesota. Her poems have appeared in Lake Country Journal, The Talking Stick, Dust & Fire, Red River Review, Alba, Eclectica, and CALYX and in the anthologies Letters to the World (Red Hen Press), and Uncontained, Writers and Photographers in the Garden and the Margins (Baksun Books). Muhm is the is the recipient of a 2006 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant in Poetry and a 2007 Individual Artist Grant from Region 2 Arts Council. She is a staff reviewer for hercircleezine.com, and is Poetry Editor at WomenWriters.net. Her chapbook, Dear Immovable, was published in 2006 by Pudding House Press, and her first full-length collection, Breaking the Glass, was published in May 2008 by Loonfeather Press, and was a finalist for the Midwest Book Award in Poetry. Visit her on the web at LouAnnMuhm.com
Shana Thornton serves as Editor-in-Chief of Her Circle Ezine and Assistant Director of the Institute of Arts and Social Engagement. Her first novel, Multiple Exposure, reveals an intimate, ghostly portrait of the impact of war, and generations of military service, on a family. Multiple Exposure will be available for purchase on Sept. 2. Read more at http://shanathornton.wordpress.com/