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Can We Understand Our Own Lunar Eclipses?

Carol Dine’s Trying to Understand the Lunar Eclipse is like many other works of poetry. It is wrought with imagery and vagaries, leading the reader to come to their own conclusions about the subject matter. However, what sets this book of poems apart from others is that it is not pretentious. It deals with real-life issues in images easily understood and pictured in a layman’s mind. This is not a book merely for academics. It is not the tactile nature of this book that captures my attention, on the other hand.

There is an undercurrent or a subtext throughout the poems reflecting an inner turmoil regarding her past, her present, and her future as a mother, daughter, wife, lover, and woman.

For instance, “In the Everglades” begins with a woman on a journey to find her former self and through images of the swamp, heat, and groves of trees, she finds the “Pods burst, perfect seed,/moss and sea water,/a daughter/curled like a fern.//” The narrator finds herself curled like a fern, though ferns are not the first image one would expect to find in the Everglades. So I wondered about this poem and whether it was an actual journey a woman went on or if it was a metaphorical journey into herself and the heat and swamp she faces are those memories and regrets we each carry with us about our life choices.

Another of my favorites from this book “Woman in the Cafe” is an observation piece of an older woman sitting in a cafe with a tattoo on her arm. But it is the end of the poem that reveals the observation is much more than a look at body art on someone in her 70s. Its a testament to the stains, the memories, the life choices made by each of us that we can either bury within or carry on our sleeves.

The more personal pieces, or what I would consider personal pieces about her family, and in particular about her father, are especially revealing. The undercurrent of not so much rage as disappointment and misunderstanding come bubbling to the surface. “On a Self-Portrait by Jim Dine” the lines that illustrate this are “Where the robe knots,/I see him burning at the stake/made from an easel.” But in “My Father’s Voice on Tape,” which is broken into parts marked Side 1 and Side 2, the eerie lines “Seven years and still you’re speaking/from behind your throat like an oboe.//” and “The sun lights your face./You close your eyes, too sad/to be the ice cream man.//” mix images of beauty with grim images of a man tormented or as a hidden tormentor.

Finally, “Painting Abstracts” symbolizes to me a rebirth of sorts. In it the narrator shapes items, colors objects, and generally is free to do what she pleases. “I cover the landscape with oils and marble dust,/deep green and earth brown.// I break up colors and shapes:/cloud caught in a tree, the pull of tree from sky./” Though not the last poem in the book, I think it propels the undercurrent toward a resolution, though it may not be an immediate resolution.

I highly recommend this book for even the casual poetry reader.