Women at Forty: Poems

Sonia Gernes, Author University of Notre Dame Press $8.95 (80p) ISBN 978-0-268-01943-3
These luminous, stirring poems confront the experience of aging with humor and insight. Focusing on women, Gernes (Brief Lives, etc.) conveys life's vicissitudes, revealing hardships without indulgence and yet never disengaging the reader's interest or empathy. This is demonstrated on the first page in her title poem: ``When sadness comes, women at forty/ go without fear to a shuttered room,/ bless themselves, bed down believing/ that each effacement is but a rest,/ a teasing dark before they ride again.'' Despite the common themes, each poem is compelling; indeed, the verses build upon each other, adding new layers and fresh perspectives. Gernes observes the rituals of death, describing in ``Dust'' the dispersal of an uncle's ashes; depicts love at midlife, which is ``not/ buoyant migration to another plane,/ but small journeys, sudden/ new species of touch, a proud arc/ in the lifting neck, a stay/ against depletion''; and travels to New Zealand. One of the most resonant poems, ``Photographs: South Island,'' is a glorious legacy to Gernes's niece: ``What would I tell you/ if I could call from this ridge?/ Not: `Stay!' Not: `Be frightened!'/ But that trees are reclaiming/ this cicatrix of rock, lichen/ softening the cuts, vines binding up./ From where I sit, waiting in rain,/ nothing despairs here,/ nothing denies.'' (June)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1988
Release date: 01/01/1988
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