Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Bride Minaret

As Wayne Miller writes, Heather Derr-Smith's second full-length collection, The Bride Minaret, "pays close attention to those displaced and/or disconnected from the society around them." A couple of poems center on orphans or refugees. Still others survey the modern Middle Eastern landscape from an outsider's perspective. But more than disconnection, The Bride Minaret is also a book of volatile juxtapositions, where the domestic sphere offers little escape from the surrounding political terrors of our time. "Gift," one of the finest poems in the book, exemplifies Derr-Smith's precise pacing and unparalleled agility. When the speaker's son pushes a cereal bowl onto the floor from his high chair, breaking the dish into pieces, the purposeful yet surprisingly adolescent gesture sends the speaker back to another mystifying moment a decade ago:

It was a gift I bought in Paris
After the Charlie Chaplin festival

And the stranger I kissed by an unnamed canal.
The stranger, too, was unnamed, and we didn't speak.

I didn't know then, nor do I understand now
Why I followed him and why I opened my mouth,

for the pleasure of it.

Later, in "Bit," the speaker reflects of her son, "One day this one I love could kill me, if he wanted." Throughout the book, the voice of Derr-Smith's poetry showcases the capacity to ignite, saying almost anything at anytime, however desperate, satirical, honest, or irreverent. In "Blow," when the political and domestic spheres collide, the speaker reflects that "My son would love war," and "I feel as if I've come home. Genocide always has that effect on me." Or later:

The truth is, poets are liars.
And prayer? Get down on your knees and suck.

In "The Bell," a mother watches children spill out of school when the day is over, which somehow leads to this wonderful stanza:

When my mother dies, I'll change into a man
Living in women's clothes. I have a collection of Nanette Lepore dresses.
I'll go breastless.
She always said there such a wide gulf separating this world from that.
She won't see me. I'll run like a man running like a woman.

Themes change, of course, as we encounter settings like Cairo, Paris, and the West Bank. But, at their core, the poems themselves do not. The work of Derr-Smith is fearless and without peer. At times stark, endearing, wry, or sexy, The Bride Minaret is a must read. And once you're done, you've got to read it again. After all, when the speaker of "Anatomy" says, "I'll do / Everything, everything // Just to touch you," you won't know whether to be frightened or flattered. Or both.

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