Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mary Loves Dogs

Today I was supposed to be hosting Mary Kennedy Eastham as a guest blogger. However, she seems to have gone incommunicado. Given the horrible weather that the U.S. and Europe has been having, I wouldn't be too surprised if she's the victim of a blackout. I sincerely hope she is not in serious difficulties.

Mary is an author of fiction and poetry who self-published a remarkable collection in 2007 called The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget. She's one of my models as someone who has really worked to market herself and her writing. (To be honest, I don't know where she gets her energy!) Since she can't be with us personally today, I decided to reprint my review of her book.

By the way, I've titled this post "Mary Loves Dogs" because she does. She has several golden retrievers and is so devoted to her canine companions that her email address is "marylovesdogs"!

The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget by Mary Kennedy Eastham

Robertson Publishing 2007

ISBN 978-0-9727721-7-4

You wouldn't guess that the title above belongs to a love poem, would you? You'll find many surprises in Mary Kennedy Eastham's slim volume of poems and prose, most of them wonderful. Ms. Eastham's poetry is sharply observed and emotionally genuine. It encompasses both humor and pathos. While not all of the pieces in Shadow of a Dog are erotic, many focus on desire, love, and loss, and in particular, the power of fantasy and memory.

Undress Me

His name was Jinx,

a dark-haired Californian

with hands too pretty

to belong to a boy.

I was sixteen, a virgin,

girl-silly from fantasizing

about what men do to women

and what women do back.

I cut my jeans into short shorts

and cut my tee shirt to just half an inch

below my swelling breasts.

I rubbed the juice

from a bottle of maraschino cherries onto my lips

and put a drop of pure vanilla extract behind each ear.

Memory rearranges itself over time

but the good parts stay.

I remember the Volvo pulling into the driveway

the sound of his voice drifting in through the torn screen door.

As I climbed from my bedroom window

onto the hot porch roof

the strap of my sandal lets loose

casting tiny particles of tar into the soft, summer air.

Gardenias bend toward me

as I slide down, down, down

into arms that felt like part of a landscape

I've lived with all my life.

Jinx was mine.

Poetry, like music, is a highly personal taste. When I turn on my favorite songs, my husband holds his hands to his ears. Some poems resonate, setting up harmonious vibrations of emotion. Some do not. Not everyone will enjoy Ms. Eastham's style, superficially casual but cutting to the bone. But I did.

My favorite poems in this book are the ones about love and desire. "Kissing Harrison" chronicles a fantasy relationship with a "bareback meteorite cowboy" who comes to town looking for a "good girl/bad girl" who isn't the narrator:

He opened up my eyes to me

said he saw me, or someone like me

in the pages of Vogue

a girl on a raspberry satin chaise lounge

disobedient gold high heels dangling from my feet.

Or the dark imagery in "Stripping for Blind Men":

The men ask me to describe the movements

which I am only too happy to do.

...

I am cat-crawling on the floor for you now boys, I say

blowing a handful of my Braille business cards

toward bodies pressed hard

against the stiff bar rail.

My hot breath gets the men crazy.

Then there's the stunning prose/poem that opens the book, "Is there ever such a thing as a tiny betrayal?"

'Do you close your eyes when you kiss?', he asks me. He's left the hotel door half-open. Someone looking in would see my bare legs dangling from a persimmon and gold chaise, my platinum silk high heels ready to walk, or not.

The non-erotic poems are equally powerful "What He Did at the End of His Life" brought tears to my eyes:

His favorite nurse is due in soon, the one who said,

'I wish I'd known you healthy.'

"6 Parisville Place" puts us into the mind of an abused child:

Pretty things will hang in her walk-in closet here.

Guns won't fire. There will be no need to hide

foster brothers and sisters in another

cold white porcelain tub, her own feet

quivering on the toilet seat

as she searches for shadows in the thin line of light

beneath the locked bathroom door.

Poetry is difficult to describe. It exists only as first hand experience--hence all my quotes, frustrating attempts to convey the emotional impact which, really, can only come from reading an entire poem, the way the author intended--perhaps re-reading it, a second or a third time, seeing new angles, feeling new emotions.

If the quotes above resonate with you, pick up a copy of this book. And read it more than once.

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By the way, if you like poetry, you'll find some of my own poems of love and desire on the free reading page of my website.

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