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carries them from the physical world into the perplexities of personal relationship, the bindings and releasings that are so essential in partnership and parenting and friendship with others and with oneself. She captures this admirably in “Restraint,” the last poem in the book: ... a rope. A rope and a trapeze. A rope and a trapeze and a circus artist whose curls diffuse with light. Her arms extended, she climbs above the audience, drapes herself in a shawl of beautiful poses, pouts, falls deliberately into the trap of hanging upside-down... Skillman excels at creating a sense of wideopenness, a spaciousness within and between her poems, paradoxically making this space most available at moments when the speaker of the poem—and the reader, following in her footsteps—feel most trapped, as in these lines from “Turnip”: Once more you force its fisted mass. Blanched white with a feather of pink— the bloodless promise? Has the chemistry of want exploded the dreamy cluck of that heart in your chest? The answer is, all of the above. Skillman’s ability to accommodate multiple meanings in even the most seemingly straightforward of sentences is like being pushed by a doppelganger who insists we jump beyond obvious interpretations. Given the high-stake issues these poems grapple with, challenges many readers can relate to—a long, complex marriage, parenting grown children, difficult childhood memories, aging, chronic illness, sudden economic downturn, and the shock of unexpected unemployment—her elusive explorations fit. Images of enfolding and entanglement—the repeating shapes of end tables, matryoshka dolls, layers of onion, the echoing edges of fractals (Koch snowflakes, the Mandlebrot set, broccolini), a series of violins of gradually increasing size, the “ruffled crinolines” of Peonies, and even the body itself with “its passageways and labyrinths,” work together to create a sense of not just collapsing and repeated patterns but also of the endless varieties of beauty in the physical world. Skillman not only describes these shapes and anti-shapes, she

Here Skillman transforms a simple, everyday object, a root vegetable, by describing it vividly yet indirectly, as if painting an image of this most basic of peasant foods on a scrim, a piece of see-through fabric through which we’re asked to gaze. She lets us look through the object itself and into the speaker’s heart. Note her use of negation here. Even without the “feather of pink,” simply reading “bloodless” makes the reader see red, if only a tinge. The tight heft of the turnip makes me feel both trapped and, simultaneously, set free. I get a similar sense of enclosure and release from the end lines in “Vases of Peonies”: ...from dark soil—as if even one of these perfect Persephones could live among our interruptions and gallant intrusions, the sharp shears of our smiling teeth. The duplicity and violence of those “smiling teeth” are emblematic of Skillman’s respect for the power

Cirque, Vol. 7 No. 1  

A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim

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