Where the Dead Are
Wanda S. Praisner
In Wanda S. Praisner’s poignant new collection of poems, WHERE THE DEAD ARE (CavanKerry Press; March 2013; $16.00), the latest in CavanKerry’s Emerging Voices series, travel and time struggle to assuage the lingering memory of unthinkable tragedy. The poems, some of which first appeared in such prestigious publications as Atlanta Review, Prairie Schooner, and Journal of New Jersey Poets, are imbued with unvarnished emotion, and captured with a clarity of image and observational honesty that underscores the depth of their perception.
“These poems are beads gathered from around the world and threaded on the singular, haunting death of a college-aged son by drowning—so that, in them, grief itself becomes a country that can have no boundaries at all,” says Renée Ashley. “The poems embody both memory and absence, rendered emotionally raw and yet invariably, indelibly elegant. Praisner knows how to wield a resonant image without hysteria or hyperbole; through her restraint, her images seem an outgrowth of a natural decorum.”
From the first poem, “At the Exhibit,” the poet invites the reader along on her quest to make sense of all that has come before and what may lie ahead:
We’ll step into the forest, its pale sepia fog,
journey together along the path—
a path I’ll mention narrows in the distance.
The path leads far afield: to Germany, where the stump of Goethe’s oak tree rests in the shadow of Buchenwald, to the cold waters of the St. Lawrence where the wreckage of a once-mighty ship lies, to Johannesburg, the Caribbean, the Galapagos. Each encounter carries a measure of grief, but also the possibility of hope. The journey is not just of place, but of time, too, as the poet ventures back to childhood, to both happy and sad times—and expands beyond the personal to embrace the experiences of sandhogs working in tunnels beneath New York waters, a screen goddess adrift in an artificial world, or a Chinese tour guide in the Forbidden City.
The tragic event that permeates these poems, however, that the poet returns to again and again, refracted through different prisms of incomprehension, is the death of her son.
A bell tolls the death of another hour
and thoughts of my child return.
On a night blacker than this,
he went away and never came back.
His face emerges from the dark;
no need for lighted candles.
Unbidden, the past arrives,
sits so close I can feel its breath.
from “Anchored Off Korkula, Croatia”
Praisner’s “language, poetic and precise, makes us feel and share emotions described and events visited in these fine poems,” says Jean Hollander. WHERE THE DEAD ARE is a work of unabashed honesty, of stark truths—and of quiet redemption.
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