Robertson Publishing 2007
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.
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.