Book Review

Jo Sarzotti, Mother Desert, Graywolf Press, 2012

An associative poem by Linda Aschbrenner
                 in response to and inspired by Mother Desert

(Mother Desert was a Winner of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize. Poet Jo Sarzotti lives in New York City. She is professor of literature and director of liberal arts at The Juilliard School.) 

Disquietude lingers in the iced room.
Perfect-bound gray 66-page road Mother Desert awaits
Undusted next to Seamus Heaney, Robert Lowell, and the Kalevala.

Just open Mother Desert. Open the book, look, partake. 
Capital letters hang on each line, like
Plath’s. My gray sweater drips in the doorway. 
Doors away, a gray wolf streaks across Lapland’s snowy tundra.

Miles to write, jazz to hum. 
Enlist friend and dear departed cat Bob. She gladly
Ascends the call out, shivering. (Give her wooly throw.)

I tear out pages. Toss Jo
Sarzotti’s poems to floored
Bob. Flurry iPaws typing.
Just warming up, she says as I look down, around.
This room has too many books.
Papers askew, a tent of notebooks, invisible trains scattering
Dust. Did you see the phone?
More snow out the window.

Trot. A long-dead horse I know plows snow.
Echoes in wind chill, thirty down, first fever inning. 
Astonished? I ask Bob, now curled in reading.
Astonished with salt on top. She in her own seance.

Angels read Sarzotti copies in coffee cinnamon  
Kitchen while slicing apples. A nicked-wing scream.
Paschal apple blood. (No blood gets on pages.) 
Splashes of water, sluicing wing, laughter.   
No war. Not planned lambs going to slaughter. 
Graves like weeds. Here a country, there a 
Country. Finite feathers and fur and rye. Black
Out. We’re living in the aegis of the olden days.

Chestnut reindeer sleep, I should know. 
Have you lost your mittens? I ask Bob.
Bedtime stories. Books packed away.

Bob wakes from timed catnap to relate murky dreams:
Her purse lost in caverns under Earth.
Hobbits puffed Chesterfields in Downton Abbey library.
Planes overhead. Running into woods with photographs.
Sibelius or similitude selected herring off silver tray 
Served by Ghost of William killed in war to end all 
Wars, or one of them. To end    to end        
End to end to end…
Words got lost. Centuries ago. What survived.

In kitchen, angels nibble all apples to air, 
Then float, bake popovers and loaves of flat rye 
Bread in gale of optative moods. 

Just write I scream. Bob sniffles. Circle Arctic dead line.
I’m too mean. Finally, hot waffles agog with cloudberries.
We burrow into sleep, dust for words. 

Afternoon morning. Midmountain, more nothing appears. 
We see our breath shoveling path to woodpile, this
Many-limbed beast hunkered in shed under snow under sky.
Remembrance of warmth past. Where is Dorothy’s Lake Country Oz?
Some like it cold? Marilyn throws snowballs from top bunk. 
Bob ducks. Icicles crack. Turner clouds pose over pines. 
We blink, picture taken. Rabbit scatters to shelter.

We run with sled piled high with wood. Finches watch.
Bob and I pull off boots, return to computers, start writing
Lines high on Sarzotti. Proof is in the pudding. Or not.
Chocolate tapioca. Kitchen clatter. Angels stir up a batch.
I worry how they spend their time.
Bob mutters, St. Paul or Minneapolis?
Suddenly it comes to me:
Your red mittens are in the back closet.

Linda Aschbrenner is the editor/publisher of Marsh River Editions. She edited and published the poetry journal Free Verse from 1998 to 2009 which now continues as Verse Wisconsin. She lives in Marshfield and is presently lost in the 1950s as she works on a book of family memories with her two sisters, Elda Lepak and Mavis Flegle.