Review by Rona Luo
Catherine Esposito Prescott’s debut poetry collection Accidental Garden is lush with natural life — raccoons manipulating garden hoses, pelicans crashing into the ocean, drooping palm tree fronds and judgmental peahens. The wildlife of tropical Florida, where Prescott writes from, is ever present, “all of us scattered together on this earth like thrown dice.” Against this backdrop, Accidental Garden, winner of the Barry Spacks Poetry Prize, meditates on the interconnectedness of life, and the speaker’s impact on even the smallest beings: “Every stomp of my sneaker / mutilates a universe of microbes.”
The collection is strongest when turning to the interconnection of women, such as a contemplation of women in ancient Rome: “As usual, the women are missing their stories / uninscribed, so I try to infer how they lived / from the everyday gods they worshiped.” Prescott’s delicate witnessing renders visible the often invisible work of mothers, from picking lice out of hair to answering questions about God. “Amnesty” juxtaposes the voice of a mother driving through a storm, “—and because I am their mother, I give them my dry shirt, my dry pants, and I drove home in my underwear,” while at the same time,
hundreds of mothers are crossing rain-swallowed roads to reach invisible borders with their children, offering small sips of water, their dry socks, their dry shirts. And then what? How do we comfort when there’s nothing left to give? The maw of my country closes on them, severing child from mother.
In contrast to the couplets, triplets and quatrains that dominate the book, “Amnesty” loosens into a prose poem as the speaker seeks to dissolve the separation between self and these migrant mothers. Because grief appears just briefly in this collection, I found myself wanting to linger with the heartbreak in this poem.
Each of the collection’s five sections contain a poem titled “Ode,” whose homages range from the mundaneness of a mother’s life to the ethereal “orbiting, spinning, luminous body” of Pluto. A teacher of yoga philosophy, Prescott’s sense of wonder and gratitude permeates the collection, even when describing cancer: “thank you / to the nausea / even to the pain / especially the pain.” Prescott has a knack for stunning closing lines, and readers interested in a deeply mystical treatise on life’s mutabilities through parenting and aging will find much beauty in this book.
Accidental Garden by Catherine Esposito Prescott
Gunpowder Press 2023
Rona Luo is a queer, neurodivergent poet and acupuncturist based in London, U.K. working at the intersection of decolonial healing, somatics, and writing as embodied practice. She is a Kundiman fellow and member of Southbank Centre’s New Poets Collective. Her writing has appeared in ANMLY, The Massachusetts Review, and is forthcoming in Bi+ Lines anthology.