Review by Christine Salvatore
In a time of less travel, walls that seem to close in, and a little too much time alone, Andrea Potos’s Marrow of Summer is all we need to journey far from home to tangible and intangible places. From London’s gardens to Monet’s water lilies, the poems in this collection traverse a topography light with hope and grounded in gratitude.
The topics of motherhood, loss, resilience, and summer, of course, are interwoven throughout the book which begins with “Before Waking in May” (13), a twelve-line poem that seems to encompass the heart of the collection.
There they are, as if on the stillest pond surface:
your crumpled griefs and nibbling fears,
scenes of the ways you have disappointed yourself,
friendship threads frayed or dissolved.
Yet still, you fold aside the blankets,
fluff your pillows and get up.
There’s no mistaking the resident cardinals
shouting at you through the window screen.
When you raise the shades,
you notice the emerged leaves of late May;
they have only deepened
their green after rain.
Imagining all of her sorrows afloat on the surface, too close to push away, the speaker turns on that “Yet still…” to show us how to persist. The cardinals “shouting” through the windows and the emergence of early summer suggest a call to keep going, to not submit to the griefs, fears, and disappointments that may make us want to stay in bed a little longer.
The speaker of the poems is waiting for summer, and with each passing poem, delves deeper into loss, fear, regret and familial love. Each poem puts forth its complaint and then finds solace in the natural world of birds and sunlight and flowers. Just when the weight of the world begins to bend her back, the speaker takes us into literature and artwork as an extension of that world. One feels as if the characters in each are alive and, in some ways, these characters help the speaker learn to cope.
It is difficult to explain how Potos does it, but this blending of Emily Dickinson references, Van Gogh paintings, and the landscapes of Europe somehow invite us into a rich life, one that is not falsely happy like Instagram snapshots but full and vibrant with pain and delight. This is craft indeed, but a craft that moves beyond carefully chosen lines and just the right images. This is, in a way, world building, and the world that Potos creates instructs us to face our hurt, look for beauty, and not give in to despair. The penultimate poem of the collection is “Always Believe Something Wonderful Is About To Happen” (63), a fitting send off from the author to her readers on how to live.
That just when I look up–a ruby-throated angel
will alight on my backyard petunias,
that the breaking morning headline will read:
“Vaccine trials crowned a success, distribution soon to follow”
that I will open my Inbox to find the subject line
“Congratulations,” and it won’t be spam
and the momentary breeze will suddenly bring me
the long-ago scents of my father’s chapstick, and
the laundry tin my mother kept in her kitchen cupboard–
accruals of cinnamon, old smoke,
and all the consolations of anise.
Potos’s poems teach us the importance of memories, art, and the natural world. Marrow of Summer is a good instructional guide on how to live, really live, in our mottled and broken times.
Marrow of Summer by Andrea Potos
Kelsay Books, Inc., 2021, $16 [paper] ISBN 9781954353121
Christine E. Salvatore received her MFA from The University of New Orleans. She currently teaches at Stockton University, in the MFA Program at Rosemont College, and at a public high school in South Jersey. When she’s not working, she hangs out with her dog, Lady Brett Ashley, and her boyfriend, Lee.