Saturday poetry pick: Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields

Last weekend at LiTFUSE, Terry Martin handed me a copy of Ashley Capps’s book Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields, from The University of Akron Press. I flipped open to a page, read

Everywhere, the ghost
wigs of dandelions,
everywhere the green
toothache of early spring.

and thought, I have to get this book.

The voice of many of these poems is quietly matter-of-fact, while the images are both lovely and desolate or even violent. And the poems have a deep empathy while at the same time cutting no one any slack.

Consider the beginning of “God Bless Our Crop-Dusted Wedding Cake”:

When my mother lifted her shirt
to show the sunken grave of her breast,
the fresh tarantula tattoo she’d chosen

over reconstruction, I shuddered at first.
The last bad joke she’d play on her body–
chest half-spider, fanged, half-planetary

one red nipple circling like Jupiter’s
perpetual storm–and I but spectator
to so much bad weather. Like summer

1967, when she roped me to the pier,
when I was ten and she was drunk in her bikini
and wanted to watch the hurricane come in.

Or this, from “Shane Says”:

Shane says he used to breed pit bulls back in the woods off his yard–
thirty dogs, thirty lengths of three-foot chain.

All they wanted to do was bite each other.

And there were plenty of people who wanted them that way.

One night, he heard a racket like the Gates of Hell.
Blue lights everywhere, knew he’d been found out.

For another example, here is the first poem in the book:

Hymn for Two Choirs

Best apple I ever had was three o’clock
in the morning, somewhere outside
San Francisco, beach camping, stars holding
the sky together like sutures. I was thinking
how I was going to get old and ask myself
why did I only live for one thing;
at the same time I didn’t know how to change.
I thought I felt like my neighbor’s huge dog–
every day stuffed into a small man’s green T-shirt
and chained to a stake in a hard of incongruous
white tulips. Here and there, a red bird, a train.
Way down the beach other tents glowed orange.
I heard a stranger call my name
and another stranger, laughing, answered.