Rob Schlegel, The Lesser Fields, Center for Literary Publishing, $16.95 (paper)

“Isn’t it all— / the before and after of every gesture—remotely elegant?” Rob Schlegel asks midway through one brief, image-centered lyric in The Lesser Fields. Transition and transience govern the obsessions in this first collection: the shift from life to death, the passage of time and season. Most of the poems here present a kind of field in themselves, directing a passage through objects and tight-bound images for the reader. The effect is syntactically sinuous, at times dislocating, but also rhapsodic: “Tonight, her name is a leaf covering / my left eye. The right I close / for the wind to stitch shut with the thread // from the dress she wore into the grave / where the determined roots of the tree / are making a braid around her body.” The book’s three sections (“The Lesser Fields,” “November Deaths,” and “Lives”) allow the poet a range within his largely pastoral focus. Even when presenting a stark mortality, he retains the gorgeous heft of his language. Schlegel’s poetics turn on the evocative power of certain words, a belief in their specific alchemy: “He set out to find / A poultice of red stones in the pond— / Its cool republic of dead leaves.” Braced against the winter austerity of many of these “fields,” the effect is one of powerfully wrought language, and of a mind that looks for sturdy unions between speech and environment. Throughout, Schlegel performs these acts with consciousness and aplomb: he acknowledges, “I am in the world, but / With pauses.”