cover image The Tulip-Flame

The Tulip-Flame

Chloe Honum. Cleveland State Univ. Poetry Center (SPD, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (56p) ISBN 978-0-9860257-5-4

Graceful and quiet, Honum’s stunning debut moves like a ballet dancer: light and deliberate, even when in pain. Here, pain takes center stage, laid bare in the opening poem: “Mother tried to take her life.” The book’s lone, clear-voiced speaker constructs a careful landscape drawn taut by tragedy, where the speaker herself is “smoke in darkness, climbing away/ from a burning hut in an otherwise empty field/ on which the fire is slight and low,” where “Night swayed on its green stem// and I couldn’t comprehend/ we’d ever be clipped from it.” The collection’s many birds perch on the edges of themselves, poised to be transformed into white scarves, wet handkerchiefs, a silver jury. These are poems undaunted by stillness, compelled to find the patterns of grief and resilience in what’s been left alive. The mourning mind survives by noticing itself everywhere, by hearing its echoes in “birdsong, as it sounded/ in the minds of trees.” Despite the long shadow death casts, the book bursts with new growth, where “Out of the light’s loose skin/ trumpet-flowers formed.” To Honum, perhaps nature’s presence is evidence enough that we haven’t been left alone: “Tonight, it crosses my mind/ how gone you are, and stars,/ if stars say anything, say Otherwise.” (Apr.)