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Kaplan, Sara.Moon Talk. Trilobite Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-934103-07-4, 102pp. $17.50 [To order, please order directly from Trilobite Press at University of North Texas Libraries, Attention Edward Hoyenski, Friends of the UNT Libraries, P.O. Box 305190, Denton, TX  76203-5190]



The poetry I find profound and memorable nearly always has a note of elegy in it, which raises the issue of whether elegy is not the basic motive for poetry, whether we are not always in some sense  writing of death. But that’s a digression that could derail discussion of the book in question. The stimulus for this endless speculation this time was a new collection of poems, Moon Talk, by Sara Kaplan. This book has a finely tuned and aching sense of loss,  but the poems are anything but downers.

Sara Kaplan is a professor at Delmar College in Corpus Christi, and there is a lot of Texas landscape in these poems. There is also a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor—the wit and high spirits, when they sparkle through, are open and friendly rather than sardonic. “The Masses Flock to Shoreline Drive” captures the feeling of the Corpus beach scene with its typical debris and activities and also the popular Selena monument, memorializing Selena Quintanilla-Perez, the Mexican American singer-songwriter, and actress. The Corpus Christi resident was achieving international stardom when she was shot to death in 1995. The scene is so Corpus Christi that it makes the reader a participant.

I pass the monument and mutter Tom Traubert’s blues

while nervous the fingers massage rosaries and the tips
of Selena’s Stone tone nails. A young man
wraps flowers around her wrist. Her carved eye-sockets
look away into the bay, as if more intrigued by the
incoming oil tankers

speeding, and in their wake, a catamaran catches breeze.
I’m closer to my car, now, where Jesus Christ
mounts the a bronze boat statue across
from Cooper’s Alley T-Head where the Yacht Club

sits alongside the broken, reconstructed Santa Maria...

There is a breathless rush to the imagery, and this pileup of images reflects the distinctive aura of the Corpus scene. These poems have an evocative precision.

Maybe the most memorable is the fine poem “In the Attic.”  This long poem captures well the confusion that one feels when looking at remnants of the past, souvenirs, leftovers. The six sections of this poem explore family history, the challenger, audiotapes, Neil Armstrong, aging, dying, and human perplexity in the face of time. The poem returns to its motifs again and again as it progresses, and each turn or return is different, amplified.

Once, my father had toys.
Once, Neil Armstrong stepped
on the moon, and left
footprints: the way one leapt
to the mailbox meant
anything was possible.

In the attic, I listen to news
of the moon—transcripts
taped on a machine—
“...mankind” over and over.

Family and national tragedies and triumphs play and replay in the speaker’s mind, in the attic, on real and imaginary tapes; images are shuffled and redealt, until the conclusion:

I open my mouth, breathe,
press stop on the machine.
Everything else holds
its breath.

The past is in some sense always present. In addition to providing a look at memory and history, this poem is an elegy to what is happening.

The final poem, “The Glory Days of Illness,” describes with startlingly realistic detail what appears to be a family picture with the dead infant centered, probably from the Victorian period when such portraits were common; the observer seems to attempt to get into the minds that were part of the scene, to penetrate the frame.

Indeed these poems can be read as an attempt to understand time, to make some sense of personal history and change. Sara Kaplan’s next work will be expected with enthusiasm.

[Review of Moon Talk by Janet McCann, author of Emily's Dress and Pascal Goes to the Races]