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.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, Lana Hechtman Ayers. The Poetry Box, Portland, OR, 2023, 128 pages, $18.00,

When All Else Fails is a book-length memoir, beginning in the dark basement of a childhood of abuse and poverty, isolation, and estrangement. A violent mother, schoolmates who shun and ridicule. But lifting into something above storm-blown shingles of a rooftop. I imagine it a cupola filled with light, or the starry sky itself.

Poetry’s saving power is everywhere evident in these poems, even in the poems from childhood. In “The Slap,” for instance, where a leaf speaks, and in “The Thing with Feathers,” where a small brown bird outside a child’s window comes into its name, a wren. Of course the poet will find a way to rename herself (and it won’t be “fatso,” or “retard”), to love herself.  A father’s patient presence despite hardship is a great help, as are good grandparents.

And books: “Library books saved me from a dark childhood,” the poet writes in “Savior,” a poem about her brother’s less bookish transformation. In poems such as “I never thought to lie down with my father” (the title is the first line of the poem), and “I Knew,” with its perfect epigraph from Ellen Bass—What if you knew you’d be the last / to touch someonewe witness the poet’s transforming forgiveness even of her mother. Let me add a little to this. From early in the book, we know the mother’s violence, her name-calling. But in “I Knew,” late in the book, we see another way to be:

Leaning in close
I kissed her cold forehead,
kissed her rigid mouth,
kissed her angry mouth,
my touch being her last,
knowing she would hate that. (p 55)

Many of the poems lean on narrative, and some pieces are in prose. But this is a poet who can, just as easily, delight us with music and image. Consider this, the first poem in the collection:

My River Runs

My river waits reply.
                        —Emily Dickinson

Born to basement rivers after rainstorm.
To a Charlie Brown rose bush that teetered
on a single thorned bough, and the one bud
a season that never opened.
Born to mother’s word.
Bus rides with multiple transfers,
escape being more waiting & wrecked
umbrellas than flight.
Born to wide feet, wearing men’s boots,
treading-gait free of grace.
Born to Neruda’s short love & long remembering.
To the door ajar that oceans are.
Born to if only and why must…
To discover the Atlantic’s pulse in my throat,
the Acadia forest beneath my ribcage.
Born to trip, to topple, to tumble.
Born to the sky’s reporter,
mood ring for the rain.
To be a lap for paws, a map of bejeweled weariness.
To memorize the changing light.
Born to curl hand around pen and ride
the whitewater rapids of poetry,
no lifejacket required.

—Lana Hechtman Ayers

The arc of the book takes us from childhood to age, from New York to Oregon where she now lives and writes, and holds our hand through the loss of dear friends and mentors, and recent hard times: Covid-19, race injustice, gun violence, personal illness. Always, the sunlight breaks in so that odes to breasts and biopsies stand side by side with odes to camellias. It’s a primer on how to navigate a life with grace.

Just a few words more on being saved by poetry. Hechtman Ayers is the managing editor of three poetry presses—Concrete Wolf, MoonPath Press, and World Enough Writers. In these poems, over and over, she reveals herself as a true believer:

I am waiting for the police
…to be taken into
custody by poets,
and taught to recite Dickinson
and Whitman from memory.     (from “What I Am Waiting For,” p 69)

For now, all I want to do
is pray day and night:
Pablo Neruda, Warsan Shire,
Langston Hughes, Patricia Fargnoli,
Richard Blanco, Alison Luterman,
Octavio Paz, Ellen Bass.     (from “Creed,” p 109)

To learn more about Lana, visit her Poetry Box book page, here, or her website,, where you can sign up for her newsletter, always a poem she has gleaned from her reading. And, while there, soak up the quote that adorns her opening page, a quote she very clearly lives by:

“I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”

–Vincent Van Gogh


DIARY OF THE ONE SWELLING SEA, Jill McCabe Johnson. MoonPath Press, P.O. Box 445, Tillamook, OR 27142, 2013, 55 pages, $16, paper,

Jack Hill, reviewing Jill McCabe Johnson’s Diary of the One Swelling Sea for Prairie Schooner, described it as “a wrenching reminder of why the sea must be loved, cherished, and protected.” I agree.

As I read, I kept thinking of this passage from Rilke’s The Duino Elegies:

Perhaps we are here only to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window—
at most: column, tower….But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely that the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing.”

–Rainer Maria Rilke, “Ninth Elegy” (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

McCabe Johnson lives on Orcas Island, in the San Juans, and, in these poems, we have so much naming. Some of the terminology was familiar to me: driftwood, coral, plankton, barnacle and shark. But much was not, and the poems introduced to my mind’s eye a whole world of creatures: monkey cups, kelee shad, brackenmuck, gillraker, ulve-weeds, black-tailed godwits. (My mind’s eye and my Google Search, I should say.) The names don’t obscure the poems but animate them. Lia Purpura describes them as “entries in a daybook, bejeweled moments, cries from the heart” (back cover).

My favorites among the poems let us glimpse the observer, too, as we see here: [Note: I struggled to get the format to work, and couldn’t. My new practice is to move it from a Word document, but it didn’t work this time—thus, the snapshot.]

To learn more about McCabe Johnson, visit her webpage: In brief, she has four books of poetry, including Tangled in Vow & Beseech, which was a finalist for the Sally Albiso Award and will be released by MoonPath Press this year.

image from iStock


THE SLOW SUBTRACTION: A.L.S., Joseph Powell. MoonPath Press, P.O. Box 445, Tillamook, OR 27142, 2019, 80 pages, $16, paper,

The Slow Subtraction is a collection of love poems. Difficult content, yes, addressing the diminishment visited upon a beloved with a chronic illness, but love poems, no less.

We never think of coughing
as a blessing
until we can’t cough. (“Ironies”)

Practical realities, the minutiae of care-giving, but also the gift of close attention: “A studious winter light magnifies the afternoon” (“Yakima Canyon in Winter”). Or consider these lines:

the carnelian arrowhead found in the garden,
the painted floral plate she bought in Greece,
the cinnabar snuffbottle (“Ringing”)

According to his biographical note, Joseph Powell now lives on a small farm outside Ellensburg, gardening, fly-fishing, and scrounging, “hunting mushrooms and agates, picking berries,” after thirty years teaching in the English department at Central Washington University. Lucky students, to have had the grace of such attention to the trajectory of details, beauty and danger, in every life.

I wanted to give you “At Adrianne’s House on Patmos” (“The lemon trees curl inward / and the warmth is a soft net over us”), but I think it has to be this one:


She has passed through the heavy doors of grace.
Its spareness a kind of amplitude.
Small things wash away like bathwater.
Even the choking for air after a bad swallow
has lost its wild-eyed reflex
as if she’s stroking the leopard beside her
until breath comes back.

Her faith is in the rightness of demise,
in the mind’s transformative evolution,
the feel of the enlarged pulse
in the sway of events, the way pettiness
is candleflicker against the passing night,
the divinity of sleep on cool afternoons.

She has taken the sacrament of faith
like a host into her failing body.
It enlightens the spiral of fragments
in memory’s house—dust in small sunlit rooms.
Love is the old dog asleep at the door.

—Joseph Powell, The Slow Substractions: A.L.S.

I read (or reread) this book while sitting in the ER beside my husband’s bed (he is fine now). I was going to begin this post with something like “I don’t recommend…,” but it was actually the perfect setting.

Life is always going on all around us. The ten thousand things. When we are caught up in the drama of it, stopping to notice those details is a great help.

Joseph Powell has published 6 books of poetry. You can read more about him, and his poem “The Snake,” also from this book, at See his poem (and hear him read) “Upside Down and Flying” at