cover image Nightingale


Paisley Rekdal. Copper Canyon, $16 (97p) ISBN 978-1-55659-567-7

In her fifth book, Rekdal (Imaginary Vessels) reenvisions Ovid’s Metamorphoses to offer a haunting meditation on the vulnerability of the body and an exploration of how one goes on living after literal or metaphorical loss. In one poem, a woman experiences her child’s gender transition while undergoing treatment for cancer, losing a daughter but gaining a more fully realized, authentic son. In “Pasiphaë,” a woman clings to her dog after the death of the man they both loved, their grief symbolized by their shared flea infestation. At the book’s core are two related poems, “Philomela” and “Nightingale: A Gloss.” In the former, Rekdal pens a tale of receiving a sewing machine from her grandmother, while the latter deconstructs all that was left unsaid in that story. Philomela’s rape by Tireseus is used to disclose the speaker’s own experience with sexual assault, juxtaposing this narrative against passages of literary theory and poetry by Shelley, Keats, and Czeslaw Milosz. This, too, leads to metamorphosis: “Perhaps it is sentimental to suggest violence has given me meaning, that the heart of poetry was ever and only silence. Madness to say, yes, there’s pain, but would I have changed without it?” Here, Rekdal translates pain into redemption, so that a loss is not an ending but a transformation, in this riveting poetic alchemy. (Apr.)