Sally Albiso, Moonless Grief

MOONLESS GRIEF, Sally Albiso. MoonPath Press, PO Box 445, Tillamook, OR 97141, 2018, 74 pages $15 paper,

It was my pleasure to read Sally Albiso’s Moonless Grief this morning. A lovely book that—perhaps because of Albiso’s untimely death in 2019—feels like a collection of elegies, or love songs for life.

The poems flutter with wings, cormorants, eagles, sometimes wings of angels. Wings are observed, and metaphorical. “Kingfishers kite with a nervous energy like yours,” a thrush slams into a window, and we get these evocative lines: “I cradle the bird the way some people pray / but take only silence into my hands” (“Compass”).

And this:

A hibernating bird,
its flock called an addiction
as if flight becomes sleep,
becomes craving
only a season of torpor relieves,
and loss just a word
like winter.

(from “Storm”)

Here’s a short poem, that will maybe demonstrate why I’m swooning:


A conical shape concealed
among loops of rope
hanging from a cedar bough.
A shelter of lichen and moss
lined with feathers so soft
I want to peck my way through a shell
and curl inside such refuge.
This way station between hatching
and flight more forgiving
than immediate delivery,
a secondary womb that secludes
until air gives life. How it would feel
to wake to that mercy and suspend
among cushioned walls
even after the last umbilical scab
falls away. To linger there
until able to take in light
without squinting,
breathe without crying first.

—Sally Albiso

You can read Albiso’s poem “Wildfire” at Verse Daily, and “When You Visit,” at MoonPath Press, plus Albiso’s brief biography and legacy.

Photo by Miriam Fischer


Colleen McElroy, Blood Memory

BLOOD MEMORY, Colleen J. McElroy. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15260, 2016, 112 pages, $15.95 paper,

I met Professor Colleen J. McElroy when I was a newly minted MFA student at the University of Washington in 1985. If I had to characterize her in one word, it would be “storyteller.” Yes, she taught us (a lot) about poetry and the making of poems, but part of the glamor of her classes, for me, was when she would lean back in her chair, half-close her eyes, and begin telling a story. She put all of us in a trance.

The stories were about her travels—which were many; about poets she’d met and read with all over the world; about her St. Louis childhood; about her family, particularly the women who taught her how to tell stories. Reading Blood Memory transports me back to her classrooms, and to her office where, as my faculty advisor, she met with me (and regaled me) weekly. I read these poems, and I hear her voice, its cadence, its rich timbre, her laughter. And, sometimes, I can see her, fixing me with a look that she must have learned at the feet of the indomitable women who peopled her childhood.

from “Paint Me Visible”:

in a family of beautiful intelligent and profoundly
crazy women     one danced in the dark
to soothe her nerves      another wove shawls
from her husband’s hair and discarded both
when the work was done      another read palms
tea leaves   cards   anything that left an imprint
on her inner eye    neighbors said she saw
things nobody else could describe

From hopscotch rhymes to blues, through birth, abortion, estrangement, exile, and return no one can describe this world the way McElroy can. Here is the book’s opening poem:

The Family Album

call it blood memory for I am the only
one left to identify by name the ancestors

I am the only one left of the women
who sat around grandmother’s oak table
and wove the stories of who and where
who knows the half of it and when

I am the answer to the questions
my mother’s sisters swallowed:
What will you do with that child?

I know now that I am here to give
voice to tongues never silent
and doors closing too quickly

I am of the age where death comes
easily and visits often in those little
obit notes of passing reminding us

how we’ve neglected dear ones
now lived again through fading pictures
stuck to crumbling pages

I buy tickets to places I may never visit
spend hours trying to remember
if the image stuck in my head has origins

in a dream or some foggy night
slipping past almost unnoticed

I am the last female of a family
of women who wove the fabric
of stories into doilies and slip covers

I am the child with sparrow legs
sock heels stuck halfway in her shoes
drinking the last of the metaphors left
in teacups on the table unattended

—Colleen J. McElroy

From the back cover, these words of description and praise:

“She is the last woman of her line. Her new poems end and begin with A. Phillip Randolph and Pullman Porters, her enjambments are Ma Rainey and Lawdy Miz Cloudy, her leading men are the last Black men on the planet named Isom, her major planets are porches and backroads. She is still the master storyteller to the 60 million of the Passage. When I didn’t know how to be a poet, I first read Colleen McElroy to slowly walk the path to how.” —Nikki Finney

Exactly so.

To read more about Colleen J. McElroy, find her at The Poetry Foundation,, and I recommend this interview with Bill Kenower of author Here she talks about where she learned to tell stories. And (love this) she talks about poetry as not just any relationship, “but an affair.” Maybe that helps explain the clotted love that breaks to the surface in poem after poem in this book.

I first read Blood Memory when it was released in 2016. It was a delight to read it this morning and enter the trance again.

And, again, the link to her at

Forrest Gander, Twice Alive

TWICE ALIVE: AN ECOLOGY OF INTIMACIES, Forrest Gander. New Directions, 80 Eighth Avenue, New York 10011, 2021, 84 pages, $16.95 paper.

I knew Forrest Gander only as the partner of the poet C. D. Wright (1949-2016), until I attended a 2018 presentation of Pablo Neruda’s Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda, translated by Gander.

The author of numerous books, poetry and prose, Gander is also a celebrated translator and collaborator. I eagerly read his previous book of poems, Be With, and now this one. And while I find him quirky and hard to capture, I’m grateful for these books. He cares deeply about language, languages, and about people as well as plants and planet.

At the New Directions page for Twice Alive, I found these words, which explain a lot in a little space:

“While conducting fieldwork with a celebrated mycologist, Gander links human intimacy with the transformative collaborations between species that compose lichens. Throughout Twice Alive, Gander addresses personal and ecological trauma—several poems focus on the devastation wrought by wildfires in California, where he lives—but his tone is overwhelmingly celebratory. Twice Alive is a book charged with exultation and tenderness.”

The loss of his partner is pretty clearly part of the loss addressed in this book. I want to say “embraced” in this book. It’s a weird book, where nothing seems off-limits. Consider the opening stanza of the title poem, “Twice Alive”:

Mycobiont just beginning to en-
photobiont, each to become
something else, its only life and a
contested mutuality, twice alive,
algal cells swaddled in clusters

As in other books I’ve read and blogged about this month, the layout of many of the poems here is challenging. I was intrigued by the layout of the Aubades (meaning a morning love song, or a poem about lovers parting at dawn):

Aubade III

We were servicing the pools of the wealthy • we were opening the
passenger door for the dog • the dog who waits in the truck • dog
staring at the restaurant entrance • so when we come out again
with a napkin • wrapped around a chunk of burrito • whimpers
with excitement • and we don’t • feel entirely alone • through it’s
true • Yo, la peor de todas • at Arion the printers • were dampen-
ing linen • so the type would cast a shadow • before they tossed
slugs of type • back into the hellbox • in the evening • we tried
to cure a phantom • limb with a mirror • but what is missing • is
inside us. A few were • throwing gang signs and smoking Reggie
• before we boarded at pre-dawn • to sit forever on the runway •
sucking up the spent fuel • of the plane before us • the overhead
ducts spewing noxious air • reflected in the dark window • our
own eyes looking back • looking blank • while neutrinos sleet
through us

—Forrest Gander

You can learn more about this poet and this book at Poetry Foundation. I’m also happy to recommend Gander’s website, where I found interesting offerings under both the media and news tabs.

And see this New Yorker piece on Gander’s book dedicated to C. D. Wright, Be With, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2019.

One epigraph from the opening of Twice Alive:

a garden without lichens / is a garden without hope –Drew Milne

There is—as you can see from the excerpts I’ve included here—a lot of unease, if not outright alarm in these poems. But also hope.

Alexandra Lytton Regalado, Reliquenda

RELIQUENDA, Alexandra Lytton Regalado. Beacon Press, Massachusetts, 2022, 84 pages, $16.95 paper,

Reliquenda means to abandon, relinquish, or that which must be relinquished. It’s a perfect title for this heart-thumping, amazing book about family, exile, separation, death, and identity. Salvadoran-American poet Regalado knows whereof she speaks. In the words of Reginald Dwayne Betts, who chose Reliquenda for the National Poetry Series,

Reliquenda is a rarity in that, in one book, it contains a multiplicity of longings and reckonings. Alexandra Regalado is poet as historian, and poet as that family member we all have who keeps the names in whatever holy book we name, the one who has the photo albums—and more than that, who we gather around when they begin to sing our stories.

Regalado reports that she wrote the heart of this book during the 89 days of lockdown in 2020, when she was stranded in Miami with her mother and grandmother, after the death of her father, while her husband and children were in El Salvador. The poems negotiate, linger over, and meditate on all of these themes. I visited several websites, looking for responses (so much praise), and you might start by checking out the National Poetry Series website (Reliquenda was the 2021 winner), and this interview at People Chica:

Here, one of the shorter poems:

The Garden of Earthly Delights

He is imminent, they have told us, a softer way of saying
he is about to die, like the words passed away, passed
to a place that is far, not here, cannot or will not
say where. Passed, as if through a threshold, to a place
we cannot follow, unknown to us. He died. It has a thud
to it, a spade of soil, the two d’s standing at either side
like bookends, died, bracing the solitary i, the self & the e,
his initial. His signature, a perfect birdswoop of wings.
And taking him by the hand, he flexes his fingers in sleep,
as if strumming guitar strings, notes that resound
in the caves of Sacromonte, geraniums in clay pots.
A puzzle on the table, half completed, all that blue & green,
grass & sky, tiny naked bodies, towers of fleshy fruits, a carousel
of dancing animals, & from somewhere comes
the music of a guitar, notes played by an unseen hand.
The adagio echoes in that whitewashed cave as we watch him pass.

—Alexandra Lytton Regalado

Many of the poems here are multi-lingual, many are choreographed across the pages, or have lines (whole poems?) by other poets woven through them. Sometimes such poems feel gimmicky to old-school me, but I was enthralled by Regalado’s choices from page one to the end. I recently—in Demystifying the Manuscript­­: Essays and Interview on Creating a Book of Poems (edited by Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon)—came across the advice to choose 5 or 10 poetry books that you would want to consult while putting your own poems into some sort of order. Reliquenda is now on my list. I found it astonishing.

You’ll find more poems and commentary on Regalado at Poets.Org and Poetry Foundation, also her website: