cover image The Dirty Side of the Storm

The Dirty Side of the Storm

Martha Serpas, . . Norton, $23.95 (89pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06266-3

The Gulf Coast and especially the Louisiana bayous, with their marsh grass, generations of fishermen, well-known natural disasters and ever-present coastal erosion, give Serpas's second volume both its strong flavor and its dominant subjects. Generations of Cajuns view "the steady vanishing/ Of your birthplace before your eyes," but also the beauty of "a blue heron lifting from brown stubble/ Light off bleached barnacles, helicopter blades// Beating the marsh into submission." Some poems take names from local landmarks ("Bayou Lafource," "Bully Camp Road"), others from general truths ("Faith in Florida"), but almost all respond to the southeastern coast, extending from Houston (where Serpas once lived) to Tampa (where she teaches now), from the dilapidation of "The Boat Shed" to "A pink-taffeta-ball-gown-and-bourbon/ sky." Curtains of descriptive lushness gather, then part, to reveal human vulnerability or human affection in Serpas's carefully clarified unrhymed stanzas. Explorations of Christian tradition and belief form an undercurrent throughout Serpas's work: "corrupted flesh confirms our/ Deepest knowledge," even though "the land wants the water,/ to be the water, to forget." Though Serpas (Cote Blanche , 2002) finished all but one of these poems before Katrina, the shadow of hurricane, flood and subsequent carnage falls over these Louisiana laments. (Nov.)