A Crooked Door Cut into the Sky
Loss and forgiveness are the wellsprings Melissa Fite Johnson dips into in A Crooked Door Cut into the Sky. She leads us through loss’s unsounded depths to forgiveness’s quenching promise. Regret—the weight borne after a loved one’s death—is encapsulated in Johnson’s nuggets of insight about her relationship with her late father:
“… For an hour or two,
I’d like to leave this place and enter
the blue-tinged light of an old television,
sit beside my father on his couch
…I’d touch his Adam’s apple—
new, plugging the hole cancer made—
and hear his gravelly voice…”
Healing comes in these poems, as it does in life, from examination of the vignettes of memory strung along the helices of our mental DNA. Johnson does a masterful job of this. In “After I Broke My Leg” she remembers:
“At seventeen, too late, I understood
on a small scale what it was like
for my father in his last years.
I wished I could sit next to my father
on our couch, prop my left leg on the ottoman
beside his right. I wanted to laugh with him,
shrug hopelessly, Aren’t we a pair?”
Johnson and her husband, who have agreed that they do not wish to have children, find themselves assailed by both loved ones and strangers who do not understand. In her poem “My Mother Moves Two Hours Away to Her New Lover’s Home” she recalls:
“…She folds cold button-downs
on the bed, tries to smooth the creases out.
I place each shirt in a box. Then the phonograph
scratch of the packing tape…”
“…we don’t talk much.
She pauses once, looking down at the open arms
of a yellow blouse. If I had grandchildren,
I wouldn’t be able to leave.
She crosses the arms of the blouse,
lifts the chest, hands it to me like
an offering. I place the shirt into its box
slowly, like lowering a baby into his cradle.”
Melissa finds the universal in the personal, elegance in the everyday, takes us by the hand, brings us along as she wends her way to wholeness:
“At home, my husband and I read,
opposite ends of the couch, my feet tucked
under his side. Our tea steeps
in the kitchen. I’m not holding on
to nothing anymore…”
A Crooked Door Cut into the Sky, 2017 Vella Chapbook Prize Winner (Paper Nautilus Press, Enfield CT and State College, PA, 2018, vi+26 pp., perfect bound) is available from the author at https://melissafitejohnson.com/, as is her award-winning first publication, While the Kettle’s On (Little Balkans Press, 2015).
This chapbook review is graciously provided to River City Poetry by Kansas Poet Roy Beckemeyer. Roy is the author of Kansas Notable book Music I Once Could Dance To, available from Coal City Press and Amanuensis Angel.