Jacqueline moved onto land
where a heard of horses already lived
It became obvious they were no one’s,
had drifted up and down this coast
for years, a bother to many.
They were not a bother to her.
She continues for pages with the same MO: chatting about the horses.
They stick around near the water’s edge.
J’s gotten good fences so they don’t straggle
down onto the highway, get themselves killed,
They big eyes are serious. They look at you with no
guile. That’s why she loves them.
A few poems degenerates into polemics, which again I can best imagine a friend delivering over coffee:
Because the gun lobby is unopposed
Because Charlton Heston played Moses,
standing on the mountain with the flowing beard,
arms uplifted, holding the Ten Commandments
People see him as The God of Guns
like his tough western persona which
gives authority to the concept of a citizen’s
“right to bear arms”, an idea left over from 1776.
They contribute to the NRA
thinking only of defending themselves.
We’re the only industrialized nation
in the world with such a lack of
gun control. Most European countries
don’t allow guns in their borders.
That last stanza particularly seems to escape any definition as “poetry”.
Nevertheless, Hough gets much more lyrical when she gets less political. Her earlier poems have a kind of eerie dreaminess at times:
What she already knows
is a rich tangle
the lover’s hair,
knot by knot,
living with him to unravel
the sequel to the mermaids.
Not always searching.
One poem I particularly enjoyed was “Seeing: To the Mailmen”, which I’ll put here in its entirety. I felt from this poem a sense of structure, image, complex metaphor and focus.
I would wish, growing up
in a round dance
that if I made a picture
you would not dilute, ex-
tend, wash further
the colors beyond the border.
You would stop the eye there
and he sense given to the eye
by the eye; the colors therein
and not extend.
Even so, it would not be enough.
The picture would have to sing, not only
be seen; as an ocean or a far off
coyote is heard, the eye seeing
and the ear listening, breath & pulse
of the joy of living pushing out
though the chest and throat
to the world. Keep coyote
particularly in mind: full white chest,
head thrown back to the moon, his howl
a statement to all and the heavens—
outlasting Geronimo, the lion, the red wolf—
I am here. Know that I still exist.
A decent wish. Hoping for
a decent pleasure,
for the seer, whether watching
or hearing or reading,
loving or unloving.
As I was reading this collection, thinking about Hough’s style and topics, I came across one poem I found fascinating because it considers exactly this. In “The Poet’s Métier” Hough asks what her style might be called. She responds, “I am a cat on a fence… There’s a skittering between my eyelids, a sort of imbalance only righted walking very carefully along a fence, & then down another, and another.” In the poem she wonders how to classify her style, and whether her uncertainty indicates that “it engages me but no one else.” Her conclusion: “I’d rather be a cat, walking successive winding fences, silent and moonstruck.”
I find this an apt metaphor, and salute her for her candor. Her poems do wander like a cat on a fence, and like a cat, no plan or purpose is necessary other than to be a cat. If you feel compelled to follow a cat on its perambulations, this collection may well be for you.