cover image The Renunciations

The Renunciations

Donika Kelly. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-64445-053-6

Kelly (Bestiary) explores in her powerful latest the tenuous line between desire and trauma in poems that ache with memory and revelation. Alternating between “Now” and “Then” sections, the poems grapple with the speaker’s past abuse at the hands of her father, as well as the collapse of her marriage in the present. A skillful practitioner of metaphor, Kelly refers to both the father and the spouse in these poems in mythopoetic terms as gods with the power to either grant the speaker some form of grace or to cause utter destruction. Conversations with the speaker’s father turn on what cannot be said, as in the lines, “He is sorry for [ ] me,/ but he will not admit [ ] me.” In searching for a way to commune with the lost beloved, the speaker turns to her body as a way to recover memory: “I hunt your scent, your skin,/ practice resurrection in the palm of my hand,/ unfold you over the uneven terrain/ of my own body in the dark.” While many of the poems delve into difficult personal and familial ground, they also move toward a kind of catharsis where the truth is “every body makes its own ash,/ manages its own diminishing.” This devastating collection makes a startling and memorable elegy of those ashes. (May)