The poems of rushes from the river disappointment by stephanie roberts do indeed come at us as a rush. In “i never tire of the moon,” one of my favourite poems from the book, the speaker says, “thankfully, we share the same sky if little else.” I am thankful too. These are poems to share: they are at times playful, bleak, flirtatious, despairing and always attentive.
In “Off Hours” the speaker remembers that it “used to be the big department stores in the city / closed on Sunday / those early morning trains belonged to / black church goers” and then, after mourning those quiet commutes, admits “I’m embarrassed to still be off-key / about love.” But of course the entire book sings, beautifully so, with intentional musicality and delightfully surprising verbs: in one poem the speaker watches someone “mermaiding the ocean green for viking silver” (“Catching Sight of the Niña the Pinta and the Santa Maria”) and in another there is a strong wind “sorrowing along our shared fencing” (“Tempesta: Tuesday December Twentieth Three Three Three Ay Em”). Love, whether off-key or not, is something worthy and wily: “will you let this whole forest of hurt love you?” (“The Woods of Perhaps”)
The precision of roberts’s language is perhaps its most striking in the way that she uses colour. In “The Woods of Perhaps” the moon is “shy-blue,” and in “Scene V” the speaker’s “sighs rain / vermillion.” Eventually, “an owl will pass silent as a nightmare / from tree to memory as cadet-grey dusk / hues into prussion blue misery” (“Passages North”) and “mustard” is declared “(the colour of sorrow’s altitude), / what best befits the travesty of tube steak” (“Something Terrible is About to Happen). This playfulness with language and ideas both soothes and startles, so that it is both unexpected and completely necessary when the poems move into more political observations, as in “This Is About Being Black” where the literal and metaphorical act of planting fall bulbs for the distant spring becomes charged with beauty and with anger: “let them think I’m burying crocuses, / daffodils, and hyacinths—sunrises / and sunsets pastel approved, but i’m / putting white bodies in these holes.”
If at times the language of the book becomes a little opaque, well, the deepest rivers aren’t transparent either—and after all this is the river of disappointment. The book is successfully river-like, with the moon appearing and reappearing, sometimes “a low sliver, silver” (“i never tire of the moon”), other times a “white-gold, loose-tooth grin” (“Canadian Goose Summer”). Sometimes things happen “while the moon pulls / bright fingers through / your exhausted navy clouds” (I/U”) or just as “the white line of pink moon / on the water nods toward the vanishing point” (A Firefly Turns on the Evening’s First Light”). roberts shows us the vanishing point, shows sparks “in the distant midst of turquoise impossibility” (“How the Wind Heels You”) and then lets us go, confronted with the rivery blurs of our own disappointments, griefs, loves, and the changing colours of our shared moon.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.