Frank Paino, PIETÁ

PIETÁ, Frank Paino. Jacar Press, 6617 Deerview Trail, Durham, NC 27712, 2023, 46 pages, $14.00 paper,

Winner of the Jacar Press Chapbook Prize, 2023, chosen by Saddiq Dzukogi, author of Your Crib, My Qibla

This is the review that catches me up for the year (18 weeks, 18 poetry books read and written about). See the review here:



LIGHT ENTERING MY BONES, Sally Albiso. MoonPath Press, P.O. Box 445, Tillamook, OR 27142, 2020, 96 pages, $16.99, paper,

Because it is the last day of National Poetry Month, I decided this morning (April 30) to reread Sally Albiso’s Light Entering My Bones and share it with you. I hardly know where to begin, so, simply: these 61 poems, divided into 4 sections, completely bowled me over. Bittersweet? Poignant? Of course. Sentimental, not at all. Bold, yes. Deeply and beautifully wrought, moving? So much.

You’ll want to have your tissues nearby—the poems document Albiso’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and her decline. But be reassured, too. She holds our hand all the way through, a close friend walking us home in the dark. “When the Snow Falls,” begins one poem, drifting from the title into the first lines: “and stars congeal, plummeting to earth / in frigid descent, we go out to greet them. / We make angels of our bodies / and petition the stellae to remain with us.” I think that sums up the book’s task as well as anything. Life is precious and fleeting; pay attention.

I’m tempted to try to do something skillful in picking out the subthemes. But perhaps sharing a poem will be enough. In this one, birds:

Birds Reside in Me

I cough up feathers
and dream of singing,
light entering my bones.
Ruby-crowned kinglets
flutter about my heart like valves
while gulls keen in my liver
like heirs feigning grief.
They want more of everything.

I open my mouth
so blackbirds lining my stomach
escape. How they call all day,

crowd the feeder, dark and slick
as if brushed with butter.
I’d bake them in a pie, brown their cries
beneath a flaky crust
until the house smells

of caramelized need,
the sweet scent of the satiated—
but I’ve only this throat
and a voice that fades.
When kingfishers dive
into my bloodstream
to gather platelets like fish,
I begin to bruise, contusions

decorating my body in the shape
of shadowed swimming. I scratch
at skin’s surface as if it were water
through which salt rises, take deep breaths
and submerge beneath sleep
while grosbeaks peck at the suet
between my ribs, an ache
like being elbowed aside.

—Sally Albiso

In Light’s introductory essay, Carmen Germain writes about exchanging poems with Albiso, and emphasizes the “honesty and truth” of this chronicle. Consider these final lines of  “Ambulance”:

In the morning,
an obstructed duct will be opened
so bile will flow freely again

and be passed by the body—a struggle
to live without bitterness.

If the poems feel at times brutal, they are brutally honest. They are also, as Karen Whalley points out in her appreciation of this book, “At their core, love poems,” “almost apologetic that [her husband] must be both witness and participant to her dying.” Her husband is an important character here. Consider the prose-poem, “Letter She Wrote Him,” where Albiso concludes, “Stars here, the sky a great camp with its fires lit, and daily the winter wren serenades, body turned to plea. Do you know the origin of mercy? From the Latin merces—the price paid for something.

If I could I would write a whole essay on how, in the second half of the book, Albiso delicately leaves a trail of salt, glimpses of Lot’s wife, as if reminding her beloved—and us—to keep our faces forward and not look back.

The poems lead us forward. Hope in the dark. A promise of light.

I reviewed Albiso’s 2018 book, Moonless Grief, in 2023. You can find out more about her at her page at MoonPath Press, and at Finishing Line Press.

Catherine Carter’s GOOD MORNING, UNSEEN

GOOD MORNING, UNSEEN, Catherine Carter. Jacar Press, 6617 Deerview Trail, Durham, NC 27712, 2023, 28 pages, $14.00 paper,

This week, you can read my weekly review at EIL (the online journal Escape Into Life):

I hope your National Poetry Month has been amazing! (Mine has.)



Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness

Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, eds. Phyllis Cole-Dai, Ruby R. Wilson, Grayson Books, West Hartford, CT, 2017, 250 pages, $21.95, paper,

I am hard at work (or joyfully at work) on my spring class with the Creative Retirement Institute (CRI), “Good Poetry for Hard Times, and I am also working on several reviews for Jacar Press. As a result, I’ve decided that one way to manage my time is to pull back a little from the blog reviews. A little!

This morning I remembered this wonderful book, Poetry of Presence, gifted to me several years ago by my dear friend Holly J. Hughes. I pulled it down from the shelf and spent an hour browsing through its already well-thumbed pages.

So much to love! This is the dedication:

to the poets who help us be mindful in a world that has urgent need of presence

Out of the 153 poems, it’s difficult to choose just one to share. Poems by poets I know well: Hafiz, Barbara Crooker, William Stafford, Pablo Neruda, Wislawa Symborska, Laura Grace Weldon, Lucille Clifton, John O’Donohue. Perhaps you know this one:


I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

—John O’Donohue (p. 82)

And poets new to me (so many!), including Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Ghalib, Stuart Kestenbaum, Penny Harter, Fady Joudah. This book truly is a gift. (I am assembling a reading packet of poems for my class, and wondering why the heck I didn’t simply assign this book.) This morning, this poem especially caught my attention. (The lines in parentheses should be indented 5 spaces, but in the preview I see that the formatting gets lost.)

Think of Others

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you express yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: If only I were a candle in the dark).

—Mahmoud Darwish [trans. by Mohammed Shaheen] (p. 142)

After a brilliant weekend of spring weather (capris! sandals!), this morning rain is falling, but sunlight is breaking through to light up the cherry tree, its blooms wetly drifting down. My dog, Pabu, is asleep in front of my cabin door, his nose pointed toward the heater. And I am so happy to be able to recommend this book to you.

But! Before I let you go, forgive a little shameless hustling (again) for my CRI course:

As I mention above, it is titled “Good Poetry for Hard Times,” and begins on Friday, May 24, running through June 14. It is not a writing class, but will (one hopes) inspire much writing. It is inexpensive, and I’d love to have you join me. (You don’t have to be retired.) For more information, check my home page for events, or click on this link: Spring Quarter CRI.

I’ll leave you with these end-lines of one more poem from Poetry of Presence: “as if this quiet day / with its tentative light weren’t enough, / as if joy weren’t strewn all around” (Holly J. Hughes, “Mind Wanting More,” p. 89).