In a recent interview published in the Boxcar Poetry Review, poet Traci Brimhall said this about her new book, Rookery, and its title: “One day in a coffee shop I was trying to write away from personal narratives, so I started riffing off the definitions of rookery (1. Colony of rooks, 2. A group of breeding sea mammals, 3. A tenement house) and ended up with these short prose poems about betrayal, family, pain, violence, and God. I liked the idea that you could start with a word and it could contain everything.”
And after reading Brimhall’s first collection, I have to say that I agree. Rookery contains haunting poems of struggles between love and loss, life and death. I know that I often use the adjective “haunting” to describe a poet’s work, but in this case, I could find no other word. Brimhall’s poetry takes the reader through surreal dreams and real tragedies, spiritual experiences and sexual encounters.
Brimhall constructs her books out of elegies, prayers, aubades and nocturnes. Many poems cradle the violence of our world. For instance, in “Elegy with Mosquitoes, Peppermints, and a Snapping Turtle,” she chronicles the actions of a father who shoots a turtle: “When I pointed to the snapping turtle’s snout/peeking above the surface, my father/got his rifle and aimed for its head//Its body didn’t jerk, but a slow red stream/uncurled in the water.” Another poem by Brimhall, “Fiat Lux” starts off with a disturbing conversation between two sisters: “My sister asks what ate the bird’s eyes/as she cradles the dead chickadee she found/on the porch. Ants, I say, knowing the soft, ocular//cells are the easiest way into the feast of heart/liver, kidney.” As violent as these scenes are, Brimhall’s words are soft, lyrical, almost dreamlike. As a reader, we almost feel as if we are glimpsing a surreal world where what is in front of us, isn’t quite real.
While many of Brimhall’s poems unfold a story before us, others paint pictures of a specific scene. Once again, dark images haunt her world. For example, “Aubade with a Broken Neck” portrays a narrator who explains: “The first night you don’t come home/summer rain shakes the clematis./I bury the dead moth I found in our bed/scratch up a rutabaga and eat it rough/with dirt.”
Brimhall’s collection is one of the best I have read this year. I know this because long after I put her work down, I am remembering images. And at night, I am dreaming of dead birds, of drownings, of women who speak in strange tongues.