A WOMAN KNEELING IN THE BIG CITY by Elizabeth Macklin (Norton: $18.95; 83 pp.). There’s a riddle before you open Elizabeth Macklin’s first book of poetry. This beautiful Chinese title forces the question: kneeling in reverence or resignation? Even the blurbs on the cover disagree: Mary Oliver says reverence; Eavan Boland seems to say resignation. Macklin lives in the big city. She writes about an us , a we so big that it might be the earth’s population at this point in history, and not just a generation making mistakes. In “What Now,” she writes: “A slow, vast generosity has loaded / the earth with treasure and what now.” In “All Over,” she writes: “All of a sudden one year, we seemed to be dying / in droves, in whole or in part . . . . " In “Our Fall,” she writes: “It’s not only just beginning to be unwarm. / We’ve found neither love nor money. . . . " And it dawns: These are poems of the Baby Bust, We Went The Wrong Damn Way poems. What better gesture to describe this than kneeling? What better place to feel that suffocating regret than in the BIG CITY? And Macklin hobbles through like Mad Max: “Time to time,/ I feel a knotted sun,/ solar plexus, rise / like the underside / of the city / overturned. . . . I see a scavenger wheel, alone alive,/ over an upturned city,/ and find a hard, unhopeful woman in my chest / from time to time.” Still, in the last section of the book, “In Color,” Macklin walks out into the sunlight, where there are nutmegs and hammocks, and trees and colors and sunsets.
All Over, by Elizabeth Macklin
All of a sudden one year,
we seemed to be dying in droves, in whole or in part.
This one lost a breast as if it were a child. That one’s
head filled dark to bursting like a stranger blackjacked,
over and over.
One simply died. There were those of us forced
to straitjacket maddened
color, or helpless desire. Twelve of us
woke up robbed, in various ways. All of
us watched our breath blacken the air before us
on cold days. All over, we seemed to be dying. The eyes of one of our own fell
to tatters and stopped reading,
or seeing. And drunks came down from
the bars with their arms
flung wide, calling, “This way--this way.”
And held out their trousers like children’s nightclothes,
for us to climb into and sleep, or cry.