Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sky Burial by Dana Levin

When I first read this book, Sky Burial, by Dana Levin, I put it down in frustration. I wasn’t ready to read deeply into the concept of death, burial, rituals… My life was filled with the mundane every day trials and tribulations of quickly fixing dinner before one of us ran off to our hobby group or game practice. Then came the day I found out a former co-worker was in the hospital. The next day I was told life support had been removed, the following morning I learned my former co-worker had passed away.

If and when you are faced with mortality you often try to find a way to put the concept of death into imagery or words and this brought me back to Dana Levin’s book, Sky Burial, with renewed interest and a need to find comfort or reason through words.

Dana Levin places the concept of mortality and death at the feet of religious rituals and humanity’s desire to commemorate or make sense of mortality.

While I am allowed to feature only one poem I find that I am equally torn between two: One is a prose poem about a “crazy woman” encountered in a restaurant in which the patrons and the poet do their best to appear to ignore her antics and yet their heads all tilt in her direction and the other poem is about the struggle of a woman who ultimately collapses and dies. The one about the crazy woman tugs at me personally given my background in advocating for people with mental health issues and how our society has a very long way to go in the treatment of those with mental health illness. However, given the title of the book and the recent death of a former co-worker I will, of course, feature the poem about the struggle with death:


You don’t have to break it. Just give it a little

tap tap. See,

there’s the crack. And you pry it a little
with the flat end of that spoon,

you’ll be able to slip yourself through.


To the woods where you’re walking. Crushed ice above you
like a layer of sky—

Some sun under it making it gleam.

Some snow under it bloodless and bright

in the fissured heart, the winter morgue of its imagined

Where you can find her—

Sprawled, facedown, in the snow—

Bracing herself up, a puff of ice at her chin, then seizing
and dying all over again—

Automaton. You prop her up.

And it’s like shaking a doll, How dare it, How dare it—



good is she for, there in her dying machine?

You push her shoulders back against the trunk of the tree,
her chest’s so cold it cracks—

so you can slip yourself through.
To the woods she’s been walking,

wondering where the living has gone.

This poem struck me because I realized that once life support is taken away it then becomes a struggle to breathe on one’s own. For my co-worker, that struggle quickly came and was gone. That sort of struggle is detailed here along with how fragile life is. The beginning of the poem details the tapping and cracking of an egg and then the words “slip through” detail not only how easy it is to slip into a fragile egg but how a soul is just as fragile and slip from its human vessel and into something else—the unknown. There are so many layers that make up the poem, the main character watching the woman dying, the bloodless snow a clue that the blood has drained from the woman’s face as she struggles again for breath, the cracking of the egg and then the cracking of the woman’s chest. There are so many layers in this relatively short poem which shows the depth and careful construction wrought by Ms. Levin. I feel this poem encapsulates Ms. Levin’s talents throughout the whole collection and also speaks to me personally which is what most poets aim for—connection.

Ms. Levin lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has graduated from both Pitzer College and NYU’s Graduate Creative Writing Program. She has received honors and awards from Rona Jaffe’s Writer’s Award, a Writer Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and has received the Guggenheim Foundation fellowship and a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. Her work in this collection has previously appeared in such publications as The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Memorious, and many others.

If you enjoyed this review of Sky Burial by Dana Levin and the small sample from this book, you may purchase a copy for yourself for $15.00 (not including Shipping and Handling) at Copper Canyon Press by using the link below:

Thanks always for reading, please click in tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…

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