Mari L'Esperance's debut collection, The Darkened Temple, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, is a book I have returned to again and again during the past month. It is impressive both for its charged content and form. In other words, the poems work not only as individual lyrics, but the book creates a unified field ~ an extended experience of breaking apart and rebuilding an identity. This is no small thing when the unsayable is at the heart of this collection. I'm focused at the moment on the short lyric - something that seems to be disappearing from much contemporary poetry at the moment. Not only does L'Esperance provide the reader with intensely held moments, but her poem. "White Hydrangeas as a Way Back to the Self" offers an extended mediation created out of these brief intensities. It is difficult to choose just one poem to stand in for the whole. I urge anyone who cares about carefully constructed lyric poems to get herself a copy of this necessary book. I have read it three times and my inclination is to begin all over again.
White Hydrangeas as a Way Back to the Self
(final poem of the ten part sequence)
I dream of white hydrangeas
floating in a shallow bowl, enormous
and tinged with the palest green.
How deeply themselves they are --
how lushly quiet and free of the darkness
that will ultimately claim them.
They live in the whole of it, light
and shadow and all that lies between
as one holy existence.
I hold them close. I hold them close
like something I could live by.
Love and music be my keepers a while longer --
White hydrangeas, invite me to stay.
-- Mari L'Esperance