There is a raptor circling in the woods outside, a hawk of some kind. He glides just above the trees and then loops down a little ways into them, up, around, down, up, around. And then he plunges down, swiftly, into the tangle of grey branches and underbrush.
Gale’s poems appear modest and unassuming, yet with attentive reading, they open out into stories that wrap sensuality and concern around seeds of bitterness and grief. I love the space in these poems. They are like jasmine buds that, steeped in hot water, unfurl and blossom, infusing the cup with a heady scent.
She manages to tell whole stories in a few lines. Describing a marriage in “The Tomato Picker”, she says he “could not sleep in their bed/without dreaming of the house/vanishing . . .” and we know what is happening. Many of these poems are about the shifting lines of power within relationships, women who are betrayed by their own bodies as much as by the smiling men who touch them. She uses small, yet precise details to summon emotion, such as the man in “Outside the Window” who catches his breath in fear that the woman inside will touch the hair of the man she is with, just as she once touched his.
Other poems are about teaching, about the stories students tell her, about their own fears in the classroom. I love “My Children are Not Fig Trees” in which she answers the question as to why she does not write poems about her children. She describes caring for fig trees, vegetables, pansies. However, of her children, she merely says, “I hold my breath./I listen to their breathing.” In just two lines, she has captured the whole of my approach to parenting. Amazing.
I picked up the book at the AWP Conference, from the Red Hen Press table. Normally I do not purchase books on the basis of what company published it, but when it comes to poetry and Red Hen Press, I can be pretty sure that I will like the book.
The poem that moved me the most was “Snakes and Hawks”. After an evening with her lover, the narrator wakes to moonlight. From the doorway, she looks back at his boa constrictor and his chained hawk. As she walks outside, she thinks, “only my own body/does not leave me” and it is as if all those lazy, looping circles about coconut ice cream and Thai beer and his pets were a distraction, a preparation, and here is the plunge, and it goes straight to the heart of the matter.