Book Report: New book of poetry is highly recommended

Wisconsin poet Thomas R. Smith writes that Kristin Laurel’s new book of poetry will “burn itself on your memory.”

Minnesota poet Deborah Keenan writes that Laurel’s work is “the start of a remarkable career.”

Endorsements from Smith and Keenan are good enough for me, so I plowed into Laurel’s “Giving them All Away” (Evening Street Press, Dublin Ohio).

Laurel is a mother, an emergency room nurse who splits her life between Waconia and Asheville, N.C.  She’s divorced and now has a female partner.

Her poems which bare for all her experiences at work and at home and in love.

She writes very accessible poetry (a godsend!) about the trials of life.

Here’s an excerpt about coming out, titled “God Hates Fags”:

We hold hands on the narrow path
while squirrels scuttle to bury
their hoarded treasure.
I’ve read that they find only ten percent of the nuts
they hid, the rest go to seed and give rise
to trees.  I stop to pick up an acorn,
press it between my thumb and forefinger.
It smells of musky earth, a trace of permanence.

Two joggers approach — we quickly drop hands.
A few red maples glare, against a pale-blue sky.
And I am ashamed.
It’s the same when I greet her at the airport
and I cut a hug short, or cover up our held hands
with the bucket of popcorn at the theatre.
We look around again.
No people. It’s safe to hold hands.

My God, this is strange —
how perfectly our clasped hands fit,
how this is the closest thing to God’s love I’ve known,
how others see this as wrong.

Sometimes, it feels like I was abducted from the nice, white, straight world
and came back queer-colored, and green.
She says, “In public, turn up the friendship
And turn down the love,” but I say
“Why should we contain love?”
She treads lightly, doesn’t disrupt the forest floor.
I drag my feet and kick up leaves,
tearing them like tissue paper.
I let my shoes sling mud.

This morning, on Good Morning, America,
they showed members from the Westboro Baptist Church,
picketing a dead Vet’s funeral, holding their signs:
“Thank God For Dead Soldiers”
“God Hates Fags”
“Jews Killed Jesus.”

I’ve been no saint.
In college I shared an apartment with a friend
For over two years. When she told me she was gay,
I moved as fast as I could.
And once, in fifth grade, at Hesperia Christian,
I called a kid a fag.  Even though I didn’t know
What the word meant, Mrs.Johnson made me
Put my hands on the wall and spanked my ass
with a holy paddle.

At least I wasn’t court-marshaled by the U.S. military.
I wasn’t put on the stand to defend my career
and myself as a human being
for associating “with gays” like my friend Maria was, a decade ago.
I was never disowned by my Christian family like Donnie,
My mom’s cousin, who died alone of AIDS back in the 80’s.

“But,” my mother asked, “What about the kids?”
Yet, my mother and children have a way of seeing things
for what they are  I hold their hands, too.
I know what my mother fears. And it has nothing to
do with what goes on.

Editor’s note: Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Phone him at 715-426-9554.,  

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