Jim Henle

Trish Reeves has written a book that ranges across history, questions faith, affirms human solidarity, and asserts the poet’s right to explore beyond the bounds of the visible.  Her poems often begin with a moment, present or historical, and wind their way, through explorations and leaps of imagination, toward an unforeseen outcome.  In all, there is the flicker, the passage, or the war, of light and darkness.  And there is the struggle for understanding and connection, and the sense of loss and loss of simplicity in that maturation.  In “If I Had a God, I Would Pray”, Reeves writes that, as a praying child at bedtime, she was told “that people around me would disappear//in greater and greater numbers as I took on years”, but now, “unable to sleep”, she remembers the dead, in an unforgettable passage, in “the lash of memory/to replace every prayer.”

The book is divided into three sections.  The second of these forms a chapbook-length series centered around images from a trove of silver-gelatin glass plate negatives.  Some of the most poignant poems are concerned with the horrors of World War I; others reveal captured moments of children playing or families posing for portraits.  But always there is the haunting of light by darkness, the ghostly residues of the dead, what is revealed about them, what lost, how the traces of light, imprinted as delicate darkness on glass, reveal a glimpse of the past and of the mystery of the past lost. In “Variations on Child’s Game: Glass, Celluloid, Paper” Reeves writes of the “speaking through transparencies” of a laconic family:

                        And now I, through given the very address

                        where the photos were taken and you were born,

                        cannot find you, or your mother,

                        but only the seconds of light.

There is a restlessness in many of the poems, a searching quality, that sometimes seems to drive forward before pulling up short or veering off into another direction.  This gives many of the poems a fragmented or enigmatic quality.  But the personality of the poet shines through. Snatches of humor and historical episodes liven the journey.  Consideration of the peculiarities of a 17th century papal night clock that allows “only enough light to let you know that you remain/alive” sets in motion a reflection on the great mechanisms we are subject to today.  An imaginary constellation of taverns (one thinks of the bar scene in Star Wars), provide the occasion for transposition of our current allegiances and idle follies.  And dinosaurs.

The title poem closes out the book:  the “receipt” is the artifact revealing John Keats’ Roman companion, Joseph Severn, renting a piano to play Keats his beloved Haydn in his dying days.  And while Reeves notes that pianos, unlike harps, are not “associated with heaven”, we understand that poems too, if not divine, are receipts that can authenticate the bonds of friendship and love, across time, even if they are fragments of a lost whole.

(Cynren Press, Malvern, PA, 2023)

Jim Henle                            

Jim Henle lives in Jamaica Plain, MA. His poems and translations have appeared in Salamander, Consequence, Cambridge River Review and elsewhere.