Skating on Bones
by J. Lorraine Brown
J. Lorraine Brown‘s accomplished first collection opens with a vivid image of the girl who would become her mother gliding across ice on strange and homemade skates. In the graceful memory narratives that follow, Brown’s family and friends appear in wonderfully unsentimental portraits. Brought together, the poems are like lanterns placed in a circle around a winter pond, illuminating the space where those the speaker has loved and lost come together for a spirited dance on night ice. This is a book of marvels.
Observant, tender, wise, Lorraine’s poems are attentive to detail, carefully crafted; she repeatedly nails the exactly right now, verb, image. Some come with characters, plot, suspense . . . make you want to know what happens next. With a good ear too, for the music of a line, she glides through challenging forms: pantoums, sestinas, with seeming ease. There is much more I could say. I had picked out as my favorite similes/metaphors, “her black hair coiled like a blood pudding” which is truly memorable. Another metaphor I love, “straight pins skewer the seam of her lips.” And if there was room, I would have liked to elaborate on some of the characters you’ll meet- Aunt Jane, Mrs. Carmichael and Poor Mary Ellen.
“Our lives are a magician’s / trick, each one a circle / in a chain of rings, impossible / to separate.” So writes J. Lorraine Brown in “Questions,” and by doing so she hints at the deep aesthetic and true magic of her “Skating on Bones.” Here is a treasure-house of family memories, legends, and vignettes, but what holds them together is no verbal trick. It is instead the subtlest and yet sturdiest binding of all, a love determined to keep darkness and loss at bay.
–Fred Marchant, author of “The Looking House”
Rating: ***** [5 of 5 Stars!]