Sarah Sousa’s collection, Split the Crow, is published by Parlor Press in 2015 and weaves indigenous tales with natural world imagery that burrow deep into your memory long after you read them. Her work has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Barn Owl Review, and more, she has won the Red Mountain Press Prize for her collection Church of Needles in May 2014. Below I am happy to share a few samples of her recent collection:
The Dead’s Bright Copperas
Could it be held in a bottle like smoke
or liquor; the color of shadow. Could it
be one of the sad animals, one of the instinctual.
Sad because extinct but still
possessing mythical teeth, legs, claws.
Carnivorous and sad. Furred, plumed, spiny
and sad. Could it be hollow as the keeled sternum
of a gull or the pitch of the cricket’s flat
note. Could it be trapped like a song in the skull’s
dull kettle. Sometimes resembling anemic condolence,
sometimes largesse. Primarily unique unless
born again of some woman. Could it be the sun
festoons the dead with necklaces and bracelets
of fat flies. Fishing for dead. Hunting the dead.
Always engaged in pursuits of the flesh.
Or could it be ghost infants who flop about
like trod-on birds. Without the strength to pass they stay;
eat our corn, settle invisible villages among us.
And wear their broken breastbones
like knocked-askey shields, stirring the flaps
of our doors—like a breeze their ingress and egress.
Sousa talks about the dead and decaying, the decomposition akin to “the sun/feasting wolf-like on the dead” and the spirits of the deceased creatures and people remaining in “invisible villages among us.” The imagery is striking to me, lines such as “the sun/festoons the dead with necklaces and bracelets of fat flies” is clear as a bell in my imagination, as is the idea of the dead “trapped like a song in the skull’s dull kettle.” This poem strikes me for its imagery and for Sousa’s ability to remind us of death’s every day presence.
Man and woman were made of stone.
But Cautantowwit, displeased, broke them
into many pieces and the mica shone out
like stars. Our cut places still glimmer.
So he started using trees.
Now you want the trees
to grow like corn, an inch for every rain.
You want the trees for ships—to take a gale,
rock on the angle, unbroken. You want the trees
to get you to another shore and back?
Better barter with the sea, god of tide-sucking
moon, god that rules your bird-caged lungs.
If the timbers of your roof stay true, thank the roof.
Cautantowwit is the Native American tribes Algonquin and Lenape’s version of God the Creator. Here Sousa shares the tale of their version of creation, filled with stunning visuals: “broke them/into many pieces and the mica shone out/like stars” and when Cautantowwit wasn’t satisfied he decided the living, growing tree would be a better way of creation, and the poet asks the Creator “You want the trees for ships—to take a gale, rock on the angle unbroken…” which leads me to believe the poet meant the Native American people’s ability to weather the storms in their lives.
It is said the women wended
their way in the dark between empty
cabins, cold fire pits, into the forest
they would abandon. It is said the procession
was formal. They wore embroidered robes
similar to the ones the Hopi lay
upon the ground when the first horses
entered into their country. Sacred horses.
Sacred trees. It is said the women whispered
to oaks and elms, wept and stroked
the bark as a mother strokes her child,
one last lull,
She makes a ghost of herself then
leaves leaves leaves.
Sousa describes the way Native American women would prepare for childbirth. The women would go far away from the rest of the tribe and prepare a sacred place from which to give birth without assistance. Sousa’s words envelop in the senses of the woman preparing for birth, leaving cold fire pits behind, the silence of the forest surrounding the woman, the feel of the bark as the woman makes way to give birth, all of it beautiful.
If you enjoyed this review, you may purchase a copy of Sarah Sousa’s Split the Crow from Parlor Press for $11.00 at:
Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon...