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Echoes Into the Miraculous

by Peggy Dobreer

A Map of Every Undoing, Alicia Elkort, Stillhouse Press, Fairfax, Virginia, 2022, 109 pages, $17.00 paperback,

ALICIA ELKORT'S A Map of Every Undoing, is a first book wrought with lace and steel, reimagined tales and rich feminist declaratives. It draws the reader into a complex cartography of abundant bullies, cruel infractions, acts of disappearance, and finally, always, love, nature, and restoration.

…If you understood beetle dung

and sugar cane, the answer in a meteor's arc, the pull of pale

echoes, if you could feel the shape of love in every leaf and misted

flower, every grain of sand content when you walk past—

(from "You Must Not Disappear," page 59)

Elkort 's work echoes into the miraculous but names outright the cruel territory of trying to grow-up female.

What I'm asking is when will they stop murdering little girls—

(from "You Don't Have to Be Good," pages 32)

…a kid holding a shotgun, trying to work up

the nerve to shoot his father who's in his sister's bedroom, raping her.

(from "Inside Every Story," page 80)

This book arranges and rearranges the losses and insults levied on the world of the speaker with strong clarity, without timidity and in full ownership of each assault. Assault is this book's middle name. And yet, perpetrators and victims stand side by side, equally wounded. They recognize each other by design and family history, go to school together, compare notes, and actively bury the findings.

When she gave me the silent treatment,

I felt relieved. But she was just another girl

whose father unzipped himself between

episodes of I Dream of Jeannie…

(from "Daisies," page 17)

The striking cover design by Alexandra Eldridge matches the poet's complexity and layers of design, conceits, and historic reference. The poems utilize ancient wisdom and modern innovation, intricate systems, and epiphanic fables to create a metaphysical transcription through which Elkort offers a lifeline to a world tarnished by trespass and irreverence.

I believed him as he rode me like an angry hyena.

Compassion is the only antidote.

Elkort insists. And then goes on to admit,

Just last week I wanted to yell Unhand me you rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril to at least five people.

Further confessing in the next line,

I'm not there, yet.

(from "Wherever You Go / Notes from My New Mexico Journal," pages 5-7)

This collection is in some part every young girl's handbook, a 'coming-of-age' almanac. A lesson plan on how not to disappear, while disappearing as best you can. It is a rite of passage story, that is, many stories, many passages; passages through annealing and hardening, heating and dousing, remembering and forgetting, and again a view back through nature into the healing, accrued through speech and rebirth.

I shallow my breath

to almost death,

my girl-heart beating…

(from "ceiling (n.) (12c.) from Latin celare 'to hide' probably influenced by Latin caelum 'heaven, sky," page 9)

…she hurries to ballet where a murder

of teenagers compliments her weightloss

(from "Cutting Diamonds," page 51)

The poet asks us to sit inside each painful perpetration, and continues to accommodate hope. Often in just a thin line or two, she tosses the reader slender, elegant lifelines to hold onto, and we remember that somewhere just above the tree line, just above and beyond each amplified insult, there is always a visiting sky, a captive moon, there are always whispered lines, a still small poetry that rallies again with each word written.

Who am I to speak of beauty?

Who am I not to?

(from "A Map of Every Undoing," page 39)

She affirms,

It's my turn to lean in with halo &shine

every blink & pinchpraised holy.

(from "Cutting Diamonds," page 53)

…Because who among us has not received

a blessing at the end of a spear?

(from "These days are hard," page 35)

Peggy Dobreer is a four-time Pushcart nominee and author of three poetry collections: Forbidden Plums, Glass Lyre Press, and Drop and Dazzle, and In the Lake of Your Bones, both with Moon Tide Press. As curator of Slow Lightning Lit, she is also the editor of two anthologies, Slow Lightning: Impractical Poetry and Slow Lightning: Astonished Poetry.

— posted March 2024

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