For some, gazing up at the stars brings to mind romance. But for Susan Minot, that vision only recalls the blackness between her sullen heart and those twinkling promises of warmth and light above.
"4 A.M.," her first collection of poetry, wastes no time setting forth an atmosphere of gloom. Her first poem, "Boston Ancestors," ends with these lines:
It is somewhere
out of them
alive or dead
I have sprung.
Yet not a person there seems to recognize
Her uncanny knack for using icy-fresh metaphors in these candid, prose-like lines arouses dark memories of the erstwhile lover:
You see it in people's mouths,
the granite tightening of their souls.
I move close to another for some heat
and the warmest thing I feel is doubt.
Indeed, the often tumultuous quest to find, let alone to sustain, a meaningful relationship is an enduring theme throughout this exquisite collection of poems. It's a theme familiar to fans of her novels, such as "Rapture" (2002), "Evening" (1998), and "Folly" (1992).
Minot negotiates a tortuous course over the unsettled waters of frayed family ties, substance-free love, and the occasional adulterous affair. The most rewarding segments, though, are the spotty glimpses of the "wild and true," as found in the altered-form sonnet titled "Interloper":
There's a cat up on the roof
With stripes across his face.
He has the curious guarded look
Of a cat who knows this place
May be inhabited
By other cats.
I see him through the window
Past yellow tangles on the sill,
Beyond the long pegged rack
Of all my heartsick hats.
He lifts his paw and shakes off rain.
His face is wild and true.
For a moment he relieves me
Of the pain of loving you.
The pangs of yearning for a "life that matche[s] the one inside," as she writes in her poem "After watching a pretty bad movie," is a recurring theme, and each heartbreak renews her desire for spiritual liberation.
It is this untapped self that drives her to seek expression outside the confines of her often injurious relationships with men. "Alone's the only way to here," she avers in another poem, describing the difficulty of making her journey while tangled in the arms of one not following on her path.
But if alone is "the only way to here," this journey will not come easily. Minot admits, "One has, after all/ needs./ Dreams know it. They remind us/ what is soft." If the unsettling poems in this collection are any indication, until reality matches her dreams, Minot's heart will wander.
• Aaron Bingham is a student at Principia College in Elsah, Ill.