a scrap of linen, a bone by Ginger Murchison is a book you will fall in love with and keep on your nightstand next to poems by Ted Kooser and Jane Hirshfield. This debut volume sparkles with candor, enthusiasm, humor, symbols, and wonder. A delicate sense of balance and grace invites the reader to observe everyday signs of joy and celebration.
Portraits of the past recreate an atmosphere of faith, resilience, and determination, the grit and persistence of roots and steadfast love. The poet proposes a new archaeology, where dear ones are not forgotten. Murchison invites the reader to listen to, observe, and honor her portraits and voices. “The Saindon Family Mouth” captures both the splendor and struggle of a family of thirteen children. The poet describes with humor the straight lip of “austerity” and uses laughter as a way to make sense of the profound lines that define our kin and identity.
Murchison has a unique talent for the unsung symbols of ritual and celebration. In “Wartime Measures,” the poet observes the superb music of mason jars with their songs of colors and hard work:
They meant something safe,
all those mason jars
labeled and lined up like soldiers
on shelves in the cellar—
every jewel color of summer preserved
with rationed sugar my mother,
half-afraid, hoarded and hid
in the hollow base of our kitchen table (21).
An array of pastel colors celebrates the portrait of the mother as a hero during the war, who worked a night shift and invested so much into the domestic rituals of caring for her family. Whether focused on someone who is polishing the hardwood floors or a sister with a master touch for quilting, every poem creates an elegiac tone of remembering and honoring subtle touches of love.
The book tackles major themes such as the scarcity of water and the need to be mindful of the effects of our actions. The poem “Honor System” should be adopted in any textbook about poetry that aims to change the world and make it a better place. The notes at the end of the book remind us about the exploitation and inequities related to water, concluding with a sobering statement: “Scientists expect the underground water supply to be completely exhausted by 2050 at which time the Arkansas will be a dead river” (60). The poem starts with a dire image of drought: “The August we were married, we didn’t need the bridge, / walked the bone-dry bottom of the Arkansas, weeds / and trash where you’d expect an underwater catfish flash” (28). This is a premonition about the consequences of the mismanagement of water and the way whole communities suffer as a result.
The poet recognizes small miracles in “Acorns,” where the poet notices he oak tree that leans over the house and the mystery of a generosity of fruit we don’t really know how to use. In “The Orchid,” the whole poem focuses on the flower itself and its resilience, how it is thrown in compost and revives. The ending of the poem brings, through an unexpected and powerful simile, a surprise, showing why we read and write poetry: “It isn’t breeding; / A simple potato will do the same thing, // hard-wired as it is to go on to a future / it can’t imagine or name, like what’s blossoming // in my sister’s lungs, another hard winter coming” (32). Here, symbol and metaphor create an indirect way to get at what is often repressed and silenced.
Ginger Murchison’s a scrap of linen, a bone reminds us why we read, why we recite poems at weddings, baby showers, funerals and inaugurations. Her words create a sense of peace and serenity in a world driven by consumerism and exploitation of the land and water. Her poetry teaches us to settle into songs, inner rhymes, the soft rhythms of confidence and wit.
Lucia Cherciu's bio will appear here.
Image:Still from Eliza Bennett's 8 minute film titled "A Woman's Work is Never Done"