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Judah's Lion

Poems by Anne Caston
© 2009, Toad Hall Press, 98 pgs.
ISBN: 978-0-915380-71-8

A Review by Mary F.Morris

I was not prepared for what I would find in Judah's Lion. There is one thing—the human condition, its beauty and terror. There is another—the rare voice able to speak its lacerations and intensity in distillations such as the poems presented here. Caston's poetry is gripping, her images haunting.

The Stone Boy (pg 6)

"Before the diagnosis was confirmed
I knew it, knew from the night of his birth, knew
When I lifted first the blue bundle of his body
And he ached – a wild thing, roaring,
Bloody still –and clenched himself against me.

… In the second year: that midnight
din of banging in the house; I'd race the stairs to find
him upright, bumping hard, the wall behind him crumbling.
One night, he rocked his crib to pieces; just in time, I found
him, hung and blue, where he'd fallen through the tipped mattress…"

Anne Caston is the nurse/Walt Whitman in the Civil War of our times, working with poverty and illness, horror, compassion, and beauty in this complex, psychological-physical theme.

Purgatory (pg 11) "You spoke of it once as a place between/closed doors the no-longer-living/come to, kept company for a time/by the souls of infants. But I/say it's a hospital nursery in Alabama,"

Some mysterious and surreal images and ideas going on in this poet's brilliant head, as in the title poem, (pg. 16) Judah's Lion. “Irony is beyond a boy like mine. As is symbolism./Allegory. Metaphor too. All is literal with him/though that doesn't rule out a wildebeest, the one he meets each morning in the fallow field/beyond our yard, the one who lies beside him/each night now in the dark."

Many biblical passages thread this book. What moves one closer, beyond these references, is the magical realism measure they take on in an astounding natural instinct reminiscent to the early work of Marquez, yet these poems are about reality, never distancing from the hard truth, grounded in the south.

The Hunt (pg 19)
“Two wings inflate/and before me again rises last night's/x-ray and its white butterfly, dead-/center of the girl: two wide wings/where her heart and lungs had ruptured/from the concussion of the suicide/bomb – a pale smear riddling the black/sky of her body…"

Poems of the nurse, sickness and healing, cure or not, there is a sacrament here in each testimony at what enters and exits the human being, as in Anatomy 101 and

The Burden (pg 21)

"I stooped to see: again, a son,
third one in three years to arrive half-made.
A changeling, the man called him, the Devil's
work in a woman's womb. He left off
the exorcism of her body long enough
to tell me: Throw it, like the others, to the dogs."

…and in a mother's fervor, Beseeching The Lord Of Tooth And Claw (pg 24),
lines like: "But oh, the songs he came here with!/Even the silver spoons of the forceps knew/enough to envy him that./…My father's word for this/a prayer. Others say heresy./I call it the heart's last falcon-cry/going out, the soul nailed to the body's/cross, while eternity's sirens sing."

Mother, nurse, social worker, truth sayer. Thick with endurance in the suffering of every day saints, a book of martyrs. And proverbs. These poems live in swamp and river, bird calls, howls, the south in all its glory, horror, and mysteries, barbed and shining.

There is a relationship, husband and wife, war and loss, the disturbing lines trembling like neon. This is the writing of death, what many poets attempt and what Caston does so well. There is also remission, the coming back from.

(pg 73) Psalm, After The Fall From Remission

"Remake me, Potter, or break me
Into three final holy pieces: scatter me
Knucklebone, eyelash, and tooth to the wind and rain.
Give what remains of me to the poor – called
Last to every table save Death's.

For reasons worse than hunger, I'm driven
Into bargaining again with You, the throttle thrown wide.

What a strange affliction being mortal is.
In one night, the camp of the body is made
Or broken. I arm myself; I resist; I try
Not to enter the one dark pass
Where I will be taken.

Tonight my house is full with waking.
I, too, am full of a curtained hour I have not yet known.

When the sun rose today, this iron bed was bright with morning
And all the daily little blisses of ignorance. By the time the sun went down,
The world of the living was closed again to me, even the false light hope gives
Off, and I lay feverish in cotton sheets so clean the rain was in them still.
Even the pillowslip was innocent of my undoing."

Judah's Lion gives access to the history of others, hardship and misery in its compelling compositions and mysteries, spinning each poem into humanity and compassion, unsurpassed.

Mary F. Morris lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is winner of the Rita Dove Award. Morris has published in numerous literary journals, including Quarterly West, St. Petersburg Review, Indiana Review, The Sun, Nimrod, and Poet Lore.
She has been a finalist for the Stan and Tom Wick Book Prize, Tupelo Prize, Brittingham Prize, Pablo Neruda Prize, and recently, semi-finalist in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. Contact: Water400@aol.com
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