by Brenda Shaughnessy
Copper Canyon Press, $16 (paper)
Brenda Shaughnessy, author of Interior with Sudden Joy and Human Dark with Sugar, is at her best in this third collection when time and space get complicated. A whole other universe unfolds in the long, stunning title poem as the poet re-imagines her child’s traumatic birth in an alternate world that could or should have been. “The past presses so hard // on the present,” she writes, “the present is badly bruised.” From this bruised present, she explores actual and hypothetical pasts and futures, the people she has been or might become. In “Liquid Flesh” Shaughnessy mourns the loss of identity following the birth of her child: “There’s no ‘its own’ while the baby cries.” As timelines proliferate, she finds the self doubled, divided, wiped out altogether; selves nest within one another as the question of “What if?” haunts them. Shaughnessy articulates, with force and clarity, the transformation that motherhood has required of her. Her poems are full of regret and ferocity, even as she rejoices in a love “so concentrated that had it been made / of blood it would be compressed // into a pure black diamond / as large as a galaxy and as heavy / as a crushed star.” And all the while, she never sacrifices her pleasure in the play of sound. “Artless // is my heart,” she proclaims—but there is much here that is artful and to be admired.