cover image My Private Property

My Private Property

Mary Ruefle. Wave (Consortium, dist.), $25 (128p) ISBN 978-1-940696-38-6

In this collection of short essays and prose poems, Ruefle (Trances of the Blast) rambles through the quotidian and the morbid, displaying quirkiness as well as the sublime. The writing recalls fables , in that contained narratives and simple premises turn to reveal something of the human predicament. But far from offering moral instruction, Ruefle tunes into an unsettling and enlivening strangeness. In the title piece, Ruefle makes an appeal for the practice of the shrunken head as a loving burial rite, while she slyly weaves in complex questions about appropriation, ownership, and loss. A series of brief, lyrical prose poems catalogue different casts of sadness, each associated with a different color: “Black sadness is the ashling, its remains are scattered over several provinces, it is the sadness of raked and hyphenated names”; purple sadness is “words with too many meanings, incense, insomnia, and the crescent moon.” Ruefle details interiority in a way that is highly mannered and charming while also deeply vulnerable. At one point, she instructs a group of eager cops “that in the beginning you understand the world but not yourself, and when you finally understand yourself you no longer understand the world.” Playing through distinct notes of knowing and unknowing, Ruefle’s writing strikes a chord that resonates in psychic and social realms. (Oct.)