There are many poems that are best read, and savored, in solitude. And then there are poems, like Maya Pindyck’s, that you need to read with others. All through Pindyck’s forthcoming collection, But the Orange Tree, I found myself wanting to share her poems with various friends, to read them out loud to my partner or children, and above all, to teach them—some in the name of working through the poems’ tangles, others for the sheer delight.
While all of the previous Poetry Month features in Tablet this month included books that were recently published, Pindyck’s But the Orange Tree is a collection to look forward to. Having received the prestigious Philip Levin Prize, it will be out early next year from Anhinga Press.
“Reading the Crease,” the first of the two Pindyck pieces featured today, is about parenthood, which is a theme that permeates the collection. Even some of the poems not specifically about parenting seem to have echoes of children’s voices. “Reading,” in the world of academic discourse, does not only mean the act of reading as such, but also analyzing and contextualizing. And here, Pindyck makes fun of one’s tendency for overthinking, even as she is herself overthinking, and overreading, the tiny line on her daughter’s forehead. The poem is funny and irreverent, but as it builds it also gets serious, drawing the inescapable and crisis-fraught parallel between the physical and the spiritual.
Not surprisingly, alongside many of the parenthood poems, there are numerous pieces in the collection dealing with the poet’s relationship with her parents—in particular, her mother. These are some of the most complex, and the most fraught, poems in the collection. In “Transparent” we read: “The poet said that to lose one’s identity is to become / more transparent. I think she means that to lose / one’s mother is an imaginable thing.” Featured below is “The Photograph,” which also surfaces some of that loss. As elsewhere in the collection, the poet alludes to the various diasporas of her grandparents, as well as her mother’s Israel, and the poet’s own North American life. Reflecting on feminism, power, and history, its final verse is tense and mysterious, referencing the image of a black walnut tree. A black walnut is a wild plant that loves the cold, that does not belong in the warm, Mediterranean climates. Its powers cannot be captured or photographed, and are not spelled out in these lines—they’re encoded, shelled, layered—much like the poem itself.
Reading the Crease
My three-week-old teaches me to read
the crease between her brows
not as concern or frustration
with the state of things,
but something of this world
I’ve forgotten: a messianic coming
of poop. A smile’s preamble.
How the dream traces
milk clouds pillowing the mouth.
Some existential crisis
mounting in the learning
to trust a body
For years I wished to be my mother in the photograph:
short-haired soldier dressed in khaki,
aiming her rifle at some imaginary
like the photograph itself.
The photograph’s ability to summon
a threat became my definition of feminist:
a woman enacting a man’s violence
with better precision than he can envision.
Our friend from the kibbutz grew to be
the first woman to fly a fighter plane for the army.
We swelled with pride hearing stories of her
fogging commanders with engine smoke.
Girl power meant flexing the nation’s bicep
to prove its dream of equality.
I can do anything.
In the photograph, my mother’s eye
meets the rifle’s scope. Her daughters,
though they will not serve,
harden from her hope.
Now, a woman, I have chosen
the warrior’s path: black walnut tree
releasing toxicity with tools belonging
to its own body, greening
& invisible to any
Jake Marmer is Tablet’s poetry critic. He is the author of The Neighbor Out of Sound (2018) and Jazz Talmud (2012). His jazz-klezmer-poetry record Hermeneutic Stomp was released by Blue Thread Music in 2013.