COLD SNAP AS YEARNING

Robert Vivian, Author
Robert Vivian, Author . Univ. Nebraska $24.95 (150p) ISBN 978-0-8032-4670-6
Paperback - 150 pages - 978-0-8032-9623-7
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Each of these vivid essays probes the mystery of encounter, that is, the impermanence of what our five senses tell us, despite the constancy of memory. Vivian, a playwright and poet whose work has appeared in Columbia Poetry Review and New York Quarterly, divides his collection into three parts, "Rootedness," "Women," and "Signs." Each is set in the Midwest, and in each, the author displays his uncanny ability to identify the fading present. In "Rootedness," which treats childhood memories, a lake in northern Michigan is remembered by its smell, "the quicksilver lightening scent of the lake after it rains;" but the remembrance is ephemeral: "I smelled the lake two days ago in a wet oak branch, though when I picked it up the lake was gone." The title essay recounts vivid childhood impressions of a snow storm, which similarly escape him the moment he steps indoors: "The furnace hums, my clothes drip, my hands droop over my knees—whatever I was looking for was lost long ago. Whatever I find is gone the moment I find it." Vivian's women all are mysterious crones, bag ladies and widows; all are just barely out of reach, and most are disappearing one way or another. Only the elderly Katherine, a stalwart neighbor, survives; she is "dug in for the final long haul." The essays in "Signs" treat encounters in adulthood, where strangers and birds, music and rivers hint at, but never quite enclose, some great presence: "You couldn't contain the spirit of this river in any painting or symphony, any poem. It's too deep down for symbols, or the colors of a palette." (Sept.)

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