In this powerful poetic sequence wrought of deft sercets, Cathryn Hankla navigates the slippery, ever-changing territory between art and life. The death of the poet’s father by car accident is the focal event for the collection, and all the poems reflect the collision of the physical and transcendent. Whether describing the abandoned nest of a Carolina wren or the excavation of the Kennewick Man, Hankla sounds a muted grief in these lines. But with wit, channeled through language and rhythm, the poet keeps traveling forward: by car and by camel, from San Francisco to Spain, with many stops between. As she takes us with her, finally off the map into regions of the interior, we discover what is at once weighty and wondrous, like ghostly snapshots left behind in a camera: “Everything and everyone who have carried / Us to this place.”
I pull you out by the roots, fierce love,
But you still smell of thyme and lemon.
What were you thinking, to die
Instead of wintering, after so many seasons
Of spring shoots and new greening?
Surely your gnarled, woody fibers
Are more alive than they look.
Yet after patient weeks of rain, nothing
Grows except the cutting I potted,
A woolly patch dwarfed by purple basil.
Making space for new plants, I pull up
Withered stems, baring your roots, and
The scent runs through me, like music
Pouring through a sieve
Of consciousness, leaving only this.
“Only Thyme” published in Last Exposures: A Sequence of Poems by Cathryn Hankla.
Copyright 2004 by Cathryn Hankla. All rights reserved.
Cathryn Hankla is the author of a collection of stories, Learning the Mother Tongue; a novel, A Blue Moon in Poorwater; and a previous poetry collection, Phenomena. Her poetry has appeared in New Virginia Review, College English, Denver Quarterly, and Woman Poet: The South. She teaches in the writing program at Hollins College, in Virginia.