Body, in Good Light, by Erin Rodoni
In her debut poetry collection, Body, in Good Light (Sixteen Rivers Press 2017), Erin Rodoni bears witness to a life rooted firmly in the body. She offers narratives and sketches filled with the details of every day life, close observations that at times open outward into more open-ended reflections.
A young child rides her mother’s hip “through my first year.” A ninety-year-old woman reveals family stories as she lies on the poet’s massage table. The sight of a sister-in-law, breathless and dying of cancer, prompts the poet to imagine a child “who will never run through this house playing tag with the child I don’t yet have.” President Obama’s aging face evokes thoughts of the poet’s own body beginning to age, the president’s “lips/on his daughter’s forehead,” what it means to live in the White House, where “it is always/November,” and the state of America itself.
The poet often writes in a voice that invites us to believe we are reading a personal history, whether the poet’s or that of a persona who could be the poet: “My brother slides the knife from his wife’s fist, dances her around the room.” “The summer I shucked oysters at the end of the world, a man and a woman came on Thursdays, held hands across the table.” “The Woman Who Is Your Mother/doesn’t have time to mourn/the proverbial washboard/abs. She has laundry to fold, nipples/to sterilize. I once blazed/through Piazza del Campo/in a white dress in the rain…”
These narratives provide a loosely connected story line that weaves through the collection’s three groups of poems: “The Doppler Effect,” “A Sort of Light We See as Flesh,” and “In the Glow of Bedtime.” These groupings more or less sequentially explore young adulthood; early married life and time spent in close company with a dying sister-in-law; and finally pregnancy and motherhood.
The poet’s narrative descriptions are often fresh, precise and clear, but this story-telling mode is not her only voice. A number of the poems are more imagistic. For example, the opening poem, “In Good Light,” presents a mysterious scene: “The others dare me to open the house like a fist./When I fall asleep I wake up/in the yard. Light ekes through slats/like clasped fingers, revealing the blood/in walls that refused them. Every room/a childhood…”
Later in the poem, we find images that both parallel and diverge from the opening images: “Every mirror, an adolescence. Fist of gristle,/hair and teeth. The others dare me to pry/open the fingers to free the shrunken/heart…”
This opening poem introduces, and stands apart from, the book’s three narrative groupings. It concerns itself with, among other things, mirrors, fire, light, release and memory. The poem’s evocative though less concretely accessible images may be an invitation to examine the lens through which we see experience – an inquiry that resonates with the book’s title.
Similarly, the title of the first group of poems, “The Doppler Effect,” implies an inquiry into the nature of perception: The Doppler effect is the apparent increase or decrease in the frequency of waves, such as sound or light, when the source of the waves and the observer move toward or away from each other – for example the change in the pitch of a siren as a fire truck approaches. It is a perceptual phenomenon, not an actual change in frequency.
Aficionados of form may appreciate the ways the poet connects the poems to one another. Occasionally, almost slyly, she repeats a verse or an image from a previous poem in a new and unexpected context, perhaps implying a richer meaning than what is found in the individual poems. For example, the last few lines of a prose poem about a summer spent shucking oysters reappear toward the end of the book as a shorter, untitled snippet: “And it was as if it had always been the three of us, moving in a circle through time. Sometimes I am the one who is dying, sometimes the one left behind, sometimes the waitress serving last rounds at the edge of the world.”
Like the first poem, the final poem stands outside the book’s three narrative groupings. Its title, “Through Clasped Fingers,” recalls the imagery of the opening poem – the prying apart of what is clenched, the light that “ekes through slats/like clasped fingers” – but now the poet speaks in a voice more tinged with faith and a sense of new beginnings. The image of clasped fingers seems purposefully ambiguous; the fingers are closed and yet amenable to light. Here the clasped fingers may even be an oblique reference to hands held in prayer.
The collection ends with an evocation of loss and stillness, returning to the sister-in-law’s hospital room and the “we” who grieve: “our bodies/empty like roadside/motels at 9 A.M., I believe/a humming maid will enter/on feather-duster feet,/wipe the mirrors/and change the sheets/and we, still believing/in these bodies, begin again.”
Laura Rosenthal recently has been published or has poems forthcoming in Poetry Now, Brevities, Sacramento Voices and the 2017 Squaw Valley Review. She attended the most recent Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop.