Review by Lynn McGee
A design motif on Pools of June by Mary Meriam is the image of bubbles. They appear on the cover, fill an illustrated figure diving into water on the frontispiece, tumble skyward on the title page and encircle page numbers in the table of contents.
Every scuba diver knows that bubbles travel up, toward air. Disoriented underwater, it’s wise to follow their trail. Likewise, each poem in Pools of June is a body of water navigated by a speaker who moves in directions the reader might not expect, but which always break the surface into meaning.
This happens sometimes because of disarmingly sincere lines, as in the poem “Needlepoint Point” that ends, “And you are every lovely leaping doe and lonely tale.”
A good number of the poems call up magic and myth, as in “Eos,” named after the Greek goddess of the dawn, and in which the speaker asks for help: “Make my local personal times non-harming,/nothing alarming.”
Another poem that elevates the ordinary to the mythic is “Allegory of the Known and Unknown,” which chronicles a trip to the grocery store and presents characters such as, “Christine the Oblivious Checkout Clerk.”
Much of the work in this collection addresses longing and nostalgia. In “Dear Heart,” the speaker swims through the depths of unrequited love, opening with an apology, “All the times I misunderstood, forgive me,” and moving on to a place of gratitude:
Oh she was lovely
who could heal a storm through the tangled briars,
who could soothe a flood through the scalding trials,
who could kiss an oath through the fallen oak trees
terrace the traumas.
“Wind” presents one of the most appealing metaphors I’ve come across in a while:
From spring to summer is a slow striptease.
Gone first, the hat, the socks, the heavy pants
for lighter pants, bare arms, and soon, romance
of skin and air, the touches of a breeze
who cries to me, I am your spirit lover.
Another favorite for me is “The Lost Crown,” with its promise of past glory and fifteen sonnet stanzas in which the moon gazes back, horses flee wildfires, geese fly low, a sister is not saved, desire deepens, the forest skirt grows red, “… ice rinks/of clouds begin to turn a dusky blue” and the sun illuminates an eagle. Finally, there is anguish: “Why does Time keep tearing us apart?”
What resonates for me perhaps the most, is the collective romantic tone of the poems, which feels at times like a kind of salve, as in “The Rudiments of Ruby”:
Drift if you wish with me
The slightest breezes life
the curtain of the heat
I see you rippling into bliss
This is my window into you
…You are the cool cup on the shelf.
Both love and nature can destroy and restore, it turns out, as shown in “Trees”:
When burdened by my sad, old memories,
the screeching hawk, the tick, the lying snake,
I love the fattened leaves in summer’s breeze.
And love of nature is paralleled by the speaker’s adulation for a lover, in “Handwritten”:
How drunk with longing one can be for hands,
for her hot love, her knowing me, her hands …
The peace of lapping waves, the sobs of herons,
the place in heaven I may see her hands.
I like the speaker throughout Pools of June for her humble tone and I like the authentic feel of the inclusion of women who pass through the book, like Carol in “Carol and I were lovers”:
We’re two invisibles as lesbians, young poets,
Excluded in 1980. Ash in our eyes …
I am glad to see “Elaine,” in “She Writes to Her”:
Elaine illuminated me … Each kiss between us another
treasure that fed the poems I wrote
and I understand the speaker’s awe for Lillian, in the same poem, ‘…The whole world bloomed
as I wandered in the land of Lillian…”
I had forgotten that Mary Meriam got her MFA at Columbia, a little after I did. I wasn’t expecting the poems to harken back to an earlier New York City, one I didn’t realize I mourned.
In “One Time with Tam,” there is a line that sums up, for me, what it felt like to be young in New York City, confident that I could meet its challenge despite setbacks: “Go home, go home, the city whined.”
And as a New Yorker who has seen many fine lesbian bars and bookstores disappear over the years, I appreciate the reference to The Duchess, in “Transplanted.”
In her blurb on Pools of June, the poet Robin Becker comments that “Meriam upends the charm, ghazal, pantoum and sonnet to deliver poems of extraordinary originality.”
I agree that the forms some of these poems take, serve to buoy twists of narrative that are unique. Read Pools of June for its facility with form, its surprises and magnetic nostalgia. Keep it on your shelf and refer to it over the years, for its moments of truly lush, unguarded beauty.
Pools of June by Mary Meriam
Exot Books, 2022
Paper, 80 pages $15
Lynn McGee (www.lynnmcgee.com) is the author of the poetry collections Tracks (Broadstone Books, 2019) and Sober Cooking (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2016) as well as two award-winning chapbooks, Heirloom Bulldog from Bright Hill Press and Bonanza from Slapering Hol Press. Lynn McGee and Jose Pelauz are co-authors of the children’s book, Starting Over in Sunset Park (Tilbury House Publishers, 2021). Lynn’s work is forthcoming or appeared recently in The North Dakota Quarterly, The Atlanta Review, Lascaux Review, Night Heron Barks and others. She is a communications manager at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY).