Shadow People, by Molly Lynn Watt

Molly sent me a copy of her book this week, and I’ve been reading and rereading her poems in the evenings as I sit out on my little porch. Instead of going to the dance, I linger to read and watch the light fade from the sky and the surface of the pond. The water makes no sound, its gentle undulations barely noticeable, until a fish breaks the surface with a little popping sound and sends necklaces of ripples whirling out into stillness.

These poems start out in Alaska, bringing to life encounters with the aurora borealis, brown bears, and local storytellers. I particularly like “Menenhall Glacier”, a meditation on time, anchored by specific descriptions of loons and lupines and mosquitoes and enhanced by surprising but oh-so-right metaphors, such as referring to the glacier as “nature’s giant plow”.

The poems segue into the revelations of daily life: hiding eggs in the spring, meditating on laundry, consoling a friend on his divorce. Sometimes, a quirky sense of humor surfaces, such as in “Song of Consumption” with its self-mockery and “Enumerating” with its playful recounting of the way we count each day. She finds music in the words around us, such as in “Redline” which uses the rhythms in the stops of the T, a rocking rhythm reminiscent of the swaying of the cars themselves.

The people who inhabit these poems are vividly drawn, a marvel of compression that I must continue to study. I felt as though I knew the man with the blue eyes, had seen Billie Holliday myself, walked through the woods with Alice. I found the poems about her mother and father exceptionally moving, especially “Into the Crack of Dawn” with its last waltz.

Molly and I share a dance community, and I am thrilled by the dance imagery in these poems, sometimes in the context of dancing itself, sometimes as a way to understand and approach the rhythms of life. My daughter-in-law, new to dancing, said that she knew she would love it when she first walked in and noticed that everyone was smiling. These deceptively simple poems invite you onto the floor and gently whirl you away, inviting you to explore the complex patterns of your life, leaving you refreshed and—yes—smiling.

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