Rub it all over the forearms whitepush then red.
Sandalwood explains the crane nested in the mountain.
Her wild hips, jagged beak.
Body lumps & chest-hole. What land is this? (“Territory”)
I’m quite taken with the precision of the poems that make up Iowa City poet Mary Hickman’s first trade collection, This is the homeland (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2015), a book that “consists of eight poetic sequences written over a ten-year period, begun when she worked as a surgical assistant in open-heart surgeries.” As she writes in the poem “Territory”: “This is the way to the steel table. / This is the homeland.” The press release informs us that:
The homeland of the title sequence is the body, open upon the steel surgical table; the sequences are linked by an attention to the visceral elements of language and by an exploration of the themes of health, transformation, desire, and identity. Hickman charts the precarious and ecstatic response of consciousness surrendering itself to language and experience, a vertigo in which the self is called back to itself and the world through losing itself. These poems are as much about love as loss, therefore—elegies to times, places, and people whose presences sear and haunt the poems.
Part of what intrigues about the collection is in the way that the “eight sequences” aren’t set side by side but occasionally weave through and between each other, creating very much a cohesive unit over an assemblage of sequences composed over such an extended period. “My desire immense / domestic, she says.,” she writes, in the poem “The Locust II.” Her poems are scalpel-sharp, insightful, bone-dense, attentive, unapologetically heartfelt, and savagely beautiful. As she writes in the poem “Remembering Animals,” a poem composed after the death of her brother-in-law: “I’d like to think / I could solve the problems of / love lives, libraries, wildlife, / obfuscating / griefs.” Given her professional experiences, one can easily read the meditative aspects of the body throughout, writing a series of questions of the physical body and how it relates to living, identity and death, stretching an intricate and intimate range of concerns relating to, and even separate from, that same body. If Robert Kroetsch once asked, “How do you grow a poet?,” Hickman’s poems, in their own way, might actually be showing exactly how at least one poet came to be, emerged through this first remarkable collection of poems on grief, live and love. Hickman is writing the most intimate of our concerns through poems that expand outward toward all else, writing out basic, human lines of questioning in an entirely original cadence.
I don’t want my name. He has hidden his own fair name in a clown, in the dark corners of my crown my feet my handkerchief. Your name is strange: Lapwing. You flew, Seabedabbled lapwing, because you know.
I am anticipating what you have to say. I am asking too much, tired of my voice. Lapwing. The voice that makes love to the seacoast. Or his last written words.
You are a delusion. You, brought all this way, do you believe?
Write! Visit! Help me believe. I called on the birds. This will end. I shall be there, laughing into a shattering daylight.
And scribble nightly, unwed. (“Joseph & Mary”)