Lifshin always wields the same power of evocation, whether it’s Mama poems or poems about ruins in Arizona:

my mother calls out
only a few weeks since
we took the ambulance
down here thru black
eyed susans and she
wanted muffins,
coffee, wanted to
smell the air on
the lake

("In My Mother’s Last Hours," p. 117_

Past Mogollon River
The limestone ruins
scrape it with your finger
And the floor breaks
the talc
must have dusted
their dark
bodies as they squatted on these
floors grinding
mesquite and creosote

("Arizona Ruins" p. 220)

No one is more precise, focused, as deftly impressionistic as Lifshin and there has never been a wider range of her poetry in any other collection.

Lots of family poems, inventive poems about Marilyn Monroe, doing New York with Jesus, Rosh Hodesh, the Jewish New Year, New Mexico, erotica — it’s all here, all held together by the same preciseness that never slides over into anything trite.

You’re totally brought into a little poem-world, and the precision of the language/imagery wrestles you to the ground:

"Somewhere when she was a child on long slow
afternoons she licked persimmons,
crumpbled saffron in her mother’s kitchen
of garlic and plums, her flesh camouflaged
even in the heat, dreaming papaya seeds
sprout in her belly to grow a skin doll

( "My Neighbor in her Veils" p. 150)

Persimmons, crumpled saffron, garlic, plus plums, papaya seeds– It’s always taste, touch, seeing, feelings. There’s no one else around more vivid and it’s always a vividness that dwells on the incidentals that are the essentials. Like these lines from the Plymouth diaries: "Mis in the valley./ the children sleep, goat’s milk on their/ faces. A woman sprinkling rose leaves in the linen...thinks / of alewives, silver,/ their greyish green blending/ with what’s around them..." It’s hard to stop reading. Lifshin is our word-Money, and luckily she hasn’t felt the need to go x-perimental, strenuously experiential or get on any of those other boats floating into obscurity that seem so tempting to other poets on the scene.

Review by Hugh Fox

Last updated: December 27, 2000