Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Review of Mother Desert: Poems by Jo Sarzotti

Through the years I haven't read that much poetry although I had an English lit professor who had a passion for it. We didn't learn the mechanics as to how poems were written but how to appreciate the way the words were selected and used to produce images and emotions. I am totally unqualified to consider whether these poems were technically correct or that they followed a specific form. All I can say is that I enjoyed them.

It has been some time since I last took a "road trip" down some back road that was once a well traveled hiway in the past, but you've seen them yourself or in the movies, and passed by deserted buildings at some intersection. The abandoned gas station, the motel where the "VACANCY" sign has been long ago extinguished:

"On the outskirts of town

Long-boarded up, abandoned

Motels, coyote in the rubble,"


I once traveled the long hiway through the Mojave Desert at night in my younger days, when as a member of the US Air Force I would leave Nellis AFB to travel home to central California for visits. Traveling at night often I would be the only one for long stretches of time. Memories are made fresh with such lines as:

"If I drive far enough, fast enough,

Something will change."

Or even more vivid in the same poem:

"A dead animal blots the yellow line,

Natural taxidermy,

Flattened & dried, particalized,"


The night time desert presented little in the way of change except for a brief stop in a small desert town for refilling the gas tank because it was a long ways to the next. The road occasionally littered with some animal that wasn't fast enough to avoid the wheels of the occasional vehicle that passed. Even in death they seemed to be defiant. As if to say I am still here:

"The dead thing stares back,

Won't retreat, gives no quarter"


My grandparents farmed as a way of life and while they had no above ground silo they had an old pump house with a windmill on the top as a fossil of the time that wind power lifted water from the ground, but to be replaced by an electric pump and a more stable supply. The pumphouse and its windmill stood out in the landscape to give comfort that we were nearly there and would soon be at home with relatives long missed. Two little lines makes vivid that image that replaces the reality that has since been torn down to make way for acres of houses:

"A plank barn, its silo

For all the world a lighthouse on the brink>"


That windmill next to the barn was a lighthouse for me. Opportunities for a city kid to mess about with the cows and calves. Getting our hands wet so that we could rub them on the salt blocks that were placed for the cattle to supplement their mineral needs and letting the calves suck the salt off our fingers:

"Perhaps I'll lie down with the cows

In their still-green pasture, let them lick

Salt from my face"


While Jo Sarzotti images Cairo and barges with tusks, I recall images of Thailand during my time during the Vietnam War. Images of long ago greatness in their part of the world where the elephant was not only heavy load transport but a tool of battle. Images staged for tourists but well remebered in the line:

"Armored for war, its triumphal procession

Is too wide for city gates."


While I have finished this small volume of verses, I am at the same time NOT finished. I am not sure anyone can ever finish a poem and say "that's it. The universe is comprehended. I can now forget about it and move on"

A number of these poems reflected experiences in my life in ways one wouldn't think. In some ways they cause me to think about experiences in new ways. I liked this collection. They made me think about the way a few lines can tell whole stories with well chosen words. I will probable go get more books of verse. They reminded me of that old English lit professor. Don't just read the words, read the pictures.

For disclosure purposes, this volume of poems was awarded free through Goodreads First Read giveaways.

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