Family Constellation, by Margaret S. Mullins

Although I've met Margaret Mullins, I've read little of her poetry. Therefore, I was thrilled to see this new chapbook from Finishing Line Press. Inside the striking cover resides a set of poems that look at the charms and tragedy of daily life and the “deeper forces” that “churn below.”

For example, “Elizabeth Kenny Polio Institute 1953” captures “one quicksilver moment” when a roomful of adolescent girls in iron lungs joke about where they are off to that evening. The poem captures the scene, the humor, and the bittersweet camaraderie of the girls in their metal prisons.

Mullins uses musical images and instruments, as in “Thanksgiving Dinner”, describing a family as though it were an orchestra:

The conductor raises his carving knife,

nods to the concertmaster who nods back,

and the Grazioso Symphony begins.

Music is apparent, too, in her word choices. She lures us in with deceptively simple lines such as these from “Metamorphosis”:

He was a brilliant, angry, funny man

who had always hated cats.

Plain language, to be sure, but it pushes me to read on, creating irresistible movement. At the same time, succinct and beautiful descriptions bring scenes to life, such as this from “Genevieve's Snowman”:

Years from now, tall and elegant

in soft leather gloves

and a vintage black fedora,

she'll see the fading photograph,

colors melting to sepia.

I can almost feel those gloves, see that sepia photo. Some of the poems are about family life, remembering her father and grandfather, capturing the humor and delight of grandchildren. She writes of an imaginative child who, when she comes in:

dropping a trail

of dolls, books, and mittens,

a dozen invisible characters

come with her:

The child leaves with her “giraffe backpack bumping along”. In other strong, visual poems, Mullins writes of the joys of mature love and the rewards of long-worked gardens. I hope to see many more collections of her poetry.

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