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Rehearsing Absence: Poems (Richard Wilbur Award, 4) Hardcover – December 1, 2001
About the Author
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Homebound past Wallingford you'll say, again,
"This is where Lenny lived; he died--let's see--
in forty-five, in Belgium; that was when
his jeep blew up. He was nineteen, like me."
Everywhere Espaillat sheds light on placid scenes and the complex life that looms just behind them. "Retriever," a winsome piece of anthropomorphism, depicts a dog philosophizing about the significance of his life. The masterful sonnet "Nightline" succinctly presents the horror we feel at the news of yet another high-school massacre. "Paper," another fine sonnet, shows the poet discarding once-meaningful old documents "that will not mean a thing to anyone." Espaillat has reached that stage in life when the process of attrition becomes inexorable; against that, she upholds her bedrock belief in beauty, sanity, and civilization. Like a lamp in the window, her poetry is a welcome beacon of hope to all of us 21st-century readers.
The best I can do for this book is to briefly look at my three favorite poems. "Retriever" is a dramatic monologue where the narrator is a dog. It's a touching poem about the love and devotion of dogs towards their people. The essence is in why dogs do this: "...Why/ do I serve him? Who else would recover/treasures he�s always losing? " It's a touching and humorous poem. "Unto Each Thing" takes the topic of death, and life. Where a neighbors garden blooms more beautiful the spring their child died. We like to think that life and beauty in the face of death can help. But "too much, smell wearied, skin recoiled/from silk and velvet leaves to touch", and Rhina shows us it does not. The final stanza really sticks with you:
and mind ached with the gardener�s back
bent to the clacking of old shears
over big, heavy-breasted blossoms
gathering earthward like slow tears.
"Three Versions" is a poem where the narrator dreams her own death. It contains lines such as: "I settled in the mould, but begged them to/take word of me to those my death would wrong" and "I woke to the third day�s inhuman chill,/rank with the scent of mould. I smell it still."
This collection spends a lot of time delving into death and other more serious concerns not seen as much in her earlier collections.
Though grandmotherish in tone, devoid of vision, and musically challenged, she does pull some of the poems off in this collection. For that I will give her one star, one which I hope she will wear proudly.