This is the second collection from a Brooklyn poet whose work
many readers will know from the "New Yorker." Jessica Greenbaum's
narrative poems, in which objects and metaphor share highest
honors, attempt revelation through close observation of the
everyday. Written in "plain American that cats and dogs can read,"
as Marianne Moore phrased it, these contemporary lyrics bring
forward the challenges of Wisława Szymborska, the reportage of
Yehuda Amichai, and the formal forays of Marilyn Hacker. The book
asks at heart: how does life present itself to us, and how do we
create value from our delights and losses? Riding on Kenneth Koch's
instruction to "find one true feeling and hang on," "The Two
Yvonnes" overtakes the present with candor, meditation, and the
classic aspiration to shape lyric into a lasting force.
Moving from 1960s Long Island, to 1980s Houston, to today's
Brooklyn, the poems range in subject from the pages of the Talmud
to a squirrel trapped in a kitchen. One tells the story of young
lovers "warmed by the rays / Their pelvic bones sent over the
horizon of their belts," while another describes the Bronx Zoo in
winter, where the giraffes pad about "like nurses walking quietly /
outside a sick room." Another poem defines the speaker via a
"packing slip" of her parts--"brown eyes, brown hair, from hirsute
tribes in Poland and Russia." The title poem, in which the speaker
and friends stumble through a series of flawed memories about each
other, unearths the human vulnerabilities that shape so much of the
From "The Two Yvonnes" WHEN MY DAUGHTER GOT SICK"Jessica
Her cries impersonated all the world;The fountain's bubbling
speech was just a trickBut still I turned and looked, as she
implored, Or leaned toward muffled noises through the bricks: Just
radio, whose waves might be her wav-ering, whose pitch might be her
quavering, I turned toward, where, the sirens might be "Save
Me," "Help me," "Mommy, Mommy"--everythingShe, too, had said,
since sloughing off the world.She took to bed, and now her voice
stays fusedTo air like outlines of a bygone girl;The streets, the
lake, the room--just places bruisedWithout her form, the way your
sheets still holdRough echoes of the risen sleeper, cold.
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