After months at home during the coronavirus epidemic, I found Miriam O’Neal’s poetry collection The Body Dialogues a respite. Through a focus on the body, personal history, religion, travel, and literature, I could both leave myself and remember who I used to be. The postcard poems, in particular, reminded me of our human capacity to inhabit the past and faraway places regardless of where we are.
As we plug into our devices, we need to connect with others and ourselves. O’Neal feeds the readers with her poems and places us wherever we are. “Field” ends with, “She gives the grownups bread and tea, / the children milk and bread. / This is what it takes to tell the body, / You are here.”
That which is seemingly forgotten is etched into the poet’s experiences and appears in these poems. Sometimes, we forget who we have been. Throughout this three-part collection of poetry, O’Neal’s “I” grows and shifts into an experienced adult. In “The Sister Doesn’t Say,” O’Neal writes, “Only she will know what she can’t remember.”
Writers love their building blocks, words and grammar, and O’Neal is no different. My favorite poem, “Homesick,” has the speaker looking towards Italian grammar. The poem ends with, “and you in the present form; / always in the familiar.” Even when the reader is transported into the past, the past becomes a vivid present.
The writer can train the reader’s eyes on something to see it more clearly in order to see something else. O’Neal writes her own ars poetica within the poem “Felucca,” “Because she cannot photograph the sky / or the darkness hiding her hand, / she’ll photography my boat and say, / See? This is a Felucca.”
The Body Dialogues by Miriam O’Neal. Lily Poetry Review, January 2020.
Reviewer bio: Chloe Yelena Miller is a writer and teacher living in Washington, D.C.