cover image Terrible Blooms

Terrible Blooms

Melissa Stein. Copper Canyon, $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-55659-529-5

Stein (Rough Honey) pursues a kind of rejuvenation through language in her second collection, seeking a way to reckon with trauma in brief, lyric poems of dazzling craft. “Now each day is clerestory,/ each night a palimpsest of scars,” she writes. Stein’s favorite part of speech is the noun; the list, her preferred form: “I want to write my lover a poem/ but a very bad one. It’ll include/ a giant squid and some loose change// and cuff links and two blue ferries chugging/ headfirst on the East River.” Eye and ear delight in Stein’s imaginative diction. Imagining herself “turned to swan” at the post-office, the speaker addresses fellow customers: “I hereby/ lend you my ascension./ In my numb and glorious/ profusion I enfold you/ and your piglet grief.” However, as the poems accumulate, readers may wonder to what end the poet is employing her significant powers. Darkness lurks beneath the shimmering language, but is often only hinted at: “another body comes/ a grown man, all smiles/ and cigarettes/ and offering. I still dream/ that the red-haired boy held my head/ under water/ to spare me what the man did.” Stein’s poems trace a deep pain, yet rely so heavily on technical mastery and special effects that the reader may have difficulty connecting with the collection’s beating heart. (Apr.)