Home » Newpages Blog » Belovedon the Earth

Belovedon the Earth

Beloved on the Earth is a timeless anthology, a meditation on “our capacity for wonder and for grief” (“Reconsidering the Enlightenment” by Donna J. Long). The Gratitude of the subtitle isn’t really necessary. This is an elegy, a mourning, a wail for the dying and the dead. Some poets are familiar, some aren’t. Some poems take pages, and some, like Larry Schug’s “Bearing,” barely seven lines:

Beloved on the Earth is a timeless anthology, a meditation on “our capacity for wonder and for grief” (“Reconsidering the Enlightenment” by Donna J. Long). The Gratitude of the subtitle isn’t really necessary. This is an elegy, a mourning, a wail for the dying and the dead. Some poets are familiar, some aren’t. Some poems take pages, and some, like Larry Schug’s “Bearing,” barely seven lines:

She bore six sons,
One for each handle
Of her coffin;
Three left hands,
Three right,
Never clung so tight
To anything.

Surprisingly, the longest poem has nothing to do with old age, a common theme in these pages. Its title is “Still Birth: A Psalm for Holy Week.” Mara Faulkner, OSB, marvels at “the secret of your becoming / burned down to a handful of ash / in a little wooden box / meant to hold music,” yet after four pages concludes, “what can I know about loss?”

The best poem of the lot, if one can measure these poems qualitatively, is Rilke’s “The Swan.” “This clumsy living” [. . .] reminds us of the awkward way / the swan walks. / And to die [. . .] is like the swan / when he nervously / lets himself down / into the water [. . .].” It’s a gorgeous simile, gently and skillfully rendered.

Some of the poems are about “that thin stranger / called Alzheimer, waltzing through / the kitchen door like a suitor” (“Potatoes” by Ethna McKiernan). In “His Funeral,” Jeff Worley tells us, “My father was finally unconfused, / the noose of Alzheimer’s snapped.” Some are about the ravages of old age and going naturally: “When she died we said / it was time, at eighty-eight, no / broken hearts here, she had a full / life, she was ailing, she was failing.” Yet at the end of Nancy Brewka-Clark’s “Poem for My Mother,” the poet confesses, “I ache to touch flesh.”

What is striking among the similes and metaphors is the nakedness of emotion, the blunt confessions of longing and abandonment. From Marvin Bell’s “Ending with a Line from Lear”: “They roll, the straps unwind, and the coffin / begins to descend. Into the awful damp. Into the black center of the earth. I am being left behind.” Gary Boelhower, in “From This Distance”: “This grief is a long loneliness of not / feeling the touch you so wanted to give.” Joseph Bruchac, from “Sky Trail,” a poem about his grandparents: “I cannot count / how many times I cried / after they died.”

One wishes such a splendid collection were free of errors. But I counted three that jarred my attention from the content of the poems themselves. In Florence Chard Dacey’s “Home,” “Five days into a comma” should clearly be “coma.” Three pages later, Diana Der-Hovanessian’s “Shifting the Sun” contains the repeated line, “May you inherit his light, say the Armenians,” only in one instance, the comma is missing. Finally, in Thom Tammaro’s “October, First Snow,” the word “to” is missing in the line “and I pretended not notice.” I bring these problems up because these are all excellent poems that deserve better. The book itself, which deserves to be perfect, is the best book of poems I have reviewed so far this year.

Spread the word!