09 March 2012

Inheritance by Iris Jamahl Dunkle

by Iris Jamahl Dunkle
Finishing Line Press in Georgetown, Kentucky, 2011
25 pages, US$12

Review by Moira Richards

This chapbook opens with an Amy Lowell quote in which the speaker gives of herself to her beloved in the form of little jars of words and the collection too, comprises twenty-three small sonnet-like jars of memory, written with love.

Love is a wonderful thing but it can often, I guess, be constricting – because of the demands, dependencies or other complexities arising from the relationship with a loved person. At the bottom of Iris Dunkle’s first ‘jar’ lie these intriguing last lines.

               ...Now, that satin ribbon tied
around my throat—love—is loosening

Many of the poems address a lover, absent – lost to death? It’s not clear – and they also veer, often, into remembrances of the speaker’s childhood and of her mother. Many of the first few ‘jars’ also hold anxieties; a variety of vague, unnamed worries until at last, in the eleventh poem, there is a sense of turn-around and assertiveness:

It was my mother who taught me the fear—
taught me to gather its silver reluctance
like a crow gathers light, carries it back
to the straw of its nest. With enough bulk,
the fear makes for a tin-foil fortress.

Now the poems become more embracing of loss, more definite in their sorrowing as, paradoxically, the overall tone becomes more confident…

                                    I’ve lost a part
of myself to you—a lizard whose tail
let loose its spring extension—and now there
is air, stars, a new galaxy of growth
expanding against all those eyes…

Perhaps the lovers connect again, perhaps not – I’ll not give away the ending of the tale – but the last poem-jar opens with this macabre yet optimistic image:

Afterwards, in the earth, where our bodies
separate and returned reveal their flaws by
decay—perhaps, the same bright beetle will
make communion of us buried…