Review by Sarah W. Bartlett
Diane Elayne Dees is a political and sports blogger who has published creative nonfiction, political essays and short fiction in many journals and anthologies. In addition to “Coronary Truth,” she has two forthcoming chapbooks: “I Can’t Recall Exactly When I Died” and “The Last Time I Saw You.”. She also publishes Women Who Serve, a blog that delivers news and commentary on women’s professional tennis throughout the world. Her author blog is Diane Elayne Dees: Poet and Writer-at-Large.
It is refreshing to pick up a book of poems that is accessible in both form and content. No beating around the bush; no archaic references requiring research to unearth; no formatting demanding handstands or backflips to follow. Dees’ writing is direct, straight forward, almost prose-like with striking poetic turns of phrase. Almost familiar. And speaking of familiar, the opening poem, ‘Preparing to See the Shaman,’ is so smoothly composed, it is possible to miss that it is a sonnet (a form she uses also in ‘The Submerged Life,’ ‘Winged Presence,’ and ‘For Joni’)
Perhaps because I have recently sat by the bedsides of dying family, I read the opening poem as in-the-between. Something between what I heard from them as death hovered ever closer, and what I myself felt as the one left behind, still searching for answers I would never be able to confirm.
And then came the second poem, ‘Unanswered Question,’ beautifully capturing that sense of ultimate loss, the inability to bridge the inevitable gap between gone and left behind. The language pulls right from the poet’s heart, drawing the reader directly in. And Dees continues to do so. The next poem, ‘Heeding Signs,’ is as close to an answer as any of us will receive: “When death arrives on giant wings,/prepare to be a midwife.” (p. 13)
For indeed, this beautifully crafted and assembled collection is just that: a preparation for death, a mediation on its many gifts, weaving the distant past with the more immediate, sliding seamlessly into the present with gentle yet piercing understanding. How she captures the waiting! In ‘Lost in Space,’ she writes:
The space between not wanting
to live and not wanting to die
is an amorphous island which
you alone inhabit.
…. there will never be enough
time. There is far too much time. (17)
These poems move among the worlds of human, insect, fish, mammal, water. They offer advice, rue lack of knowledge, reflect on loss, and ponder the existential nature of life. In ‘Meditation on Dusk,’ Dees writes
I am never less sure
of my existence as I am when I hear
unseen beings tear the edges of the day
from the universe, folding us all into darkness. (27)
It would be easy to conclude that this is a somewhat depressing collection, focused as it is on the inevitable ending of life. And yet, it is not. Rather, the poems included here provide solace to the searching, subtle guidance for those new at witnessing death, and companionship for those at various stages of their own grieving. In this collection is something for everyone attuned to the natural worlds of emerging damselflies, enfolding night, the fleeting lifespan of dragonfly, the blindness of fish, the messages of egret and owl, pine tree and bees; as well as those aware of the body’s changing and challenging limitations over a lifetime.
If one poem could summarize the wide-ranging wisdom contained within these twenty poems, it would be ‘Master Class’ for its wit, breadth, and depth of perception.
But the roses are the most demanding professors,
and we fail their lessons again and again.
Let something grow the way it needs to grow.
Not everything will survive. Nothing toxic
is ever beneficial. And the final test –
every day of your life, deadhead what is spent,
then harshly prune your desire to control what remains. (28)
You might not think to pick up this slim volume of poems. But I can guarantee that if you do so once, you will want to again and again. Each reading sheds more light, opens more ways of seeing, deepens your own heart to possibility and hope.
Coronary Truth By Diane Elayne Dees
Kelsay Books, 2020
Sarah W. Bartlett has authored two poetry chapbooks with Finishing Line Press, “Slow Blooming Gratitudes” (New Women’s Voices Finalist #130, 2017) and “Into the Great Blue” (2011). Word-midwife, grandmother and gardener, she celebrates nature’s healing wisdom and the human spirit’s landscapes. Additional poems, creative non-fiction and articles appear in numerous journals and anthologies, including the award-winning “Women on Poetry,” (McFarland & Co. Inc., 2012).