In Pearly Everlasting, Thomas Reiter crafts authentic lives, both autobiographical and fictional, historical and contemporary, across a wide range of locales, maintaining a steady focus on the lore of occupations while revealing the speakers’ crucial connection to the natural world. These poems come in earthtones—the colors of strenuous labor; dried flowers from a midwestern prairie; a centuries-old bone newly uncovered; the surf and sky, gold and coral deposits, of the West Indies; and the pure soul of a freshly thawed stream. Through a rich mix of lyrical and narrative forms, Reiter honors hard livelihoods that demand concentration of mind and muscle—Oregon Trail pioneers, farmers, railroad workers, natives and early colonists in the Caribbean, coal miners. Memory and the past, real or imagined, are palpable in Reiter’s verse and often align in a kind of double exposure with the present.
Resonating through the poems are botanical details, gritty and convincing, never ready-made or sentimental. In Pearly Everlasting, flora can be as close and important as family members, with a long-distance reach in emotion and significance. For Reiter as well as his poems’ personae, self-awareness becomes a matter of discovery, passion, and a finely wrought wisdom: “Look: our shadows keep / the frost on stone-bound lichen . . . / no burden. We bend together, / gathering the everlasting.”
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