In this superb new poetry collection, the world is viewed through the metaphor of Saint Paul's: as though it were seen "through a glass darkly." But although McCabe's landscape is often dark, her language is quite clear, capable of letting through enough light to see that "sometimes / it is beautiful, framed in flame, / and [only] some days, as today, obscure." But even when it is totally dark, the poet assures us that "Hymn will lead you / humming," never straying far from her assertion: "I hope."
And it is when McCabe writes about this hope that her poems truly sing. "Sometimes lying hours awake I can almost hear / the deer sweep through the undergrowth, / ring the house, its small barn, // past the apple tress, gnarled and spent." And even when "motionless at the window," the poet "can't really see them at all, only the absence of pine against // star spattered sky, the vague / recollection of light" shines through. This is because she is adamant about "the soul's / determination not to be alone." But even when most others would abandon hope as the light wanes, this poet tells us that "the sharp dark was revealed at last / to be curves and sweet tastes." And in the poem "Planting," we learn that even "in absence, something ...will branch. Bloom."
Selecting a favorite poem is a difficult choice to make, but a strong candidate is "On Hearing the Call to Prayer over the Marcellus Shale on Easter Morning." In it, the poet reminds all nihilists as well as all saviors that "Things are seldom as hard as they seem. / I believe in this, called what you will; / and if a prayer can rise me bread like, // so the day is risen." Yet, it is "A complex equation, // x contains multitudes, contradictions, can be / both positive or negative, influenced one day / by the preponderance of greater than / nothing; one day by weight of less than."
Although McCabe’s voice is original, I can hear echoes of poets who have come before her: the footsteps of Whitman, the self-reflective images of Levis as in the final line of “Boy in Video Arcade: "And it's slow work because of all the gauzy light. / It's hard to pick out anything."
Marilyn McCabe has done the hard, slow work of assembling poems with language that aptly describes a vision both memorable and mature, a vision that invites us in to recreate it in our own work, without vaunting ourselves up in pride or falling into the pit of despair.