cover image The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems

The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems

Marilyn Nelson. Louisiana State University Press, $21.95 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-8071-2175-7

Embracing themes of motherhood and marriage, racism and religion, Nelson recombines accomplished works from earlier volumes (The Homeplace; Magnificat) with new poems. In one run-on sentence the narrator of ""Bali Hai Calls Mama"" recalls a Saturday afternoon in which, ""I was putting away the groceries/ I'd spent the morning buying"" and ""the baby was screaming/and I dropped the bag of cake flour..."" when suddenly through the window comes ""the cry of wild geese."" Section II offers poems about her childhood. ""How I Discovered Poetry"" (listening to a teacher read) and ""Sisters,"" with schoolgirls fist fighting at a bus stop, mix with resonant paeans to her parents. Strongest is Section III; its poems, grappling with evil and filled with biblical and philosophical references, demonstrate a luminous power. Included are a series of parables about the holy figure, Abba Jacob, whose teachings are delivered in taut, colloquial verse: in one, after he gives up in his fight with an angel, ""she took his hand in hers/ and put her arm around his neck./ Then he heard the music."" The final section, with its sequences on love and forgiveness, closes with the story of a racist incident which ends with a wholly unexpected apology, a ""minor miracle"" in the life that we must navigate together, as Nelson persuasively reminds us in this stirring assemblage of poems. (May)