DUTIES OF THE SPIRIT
Paper, 80 pages, $16.95
A melancholy quality rises from the poetry of Patricia Fargnoli, much like the turning of the season in autumn, the turning of the season in one s age, and the revelation of the little things that are, in the depth of life, more large than little.
In If Too Much Has Happened, there is the tambourine of rain on a tin roof, and the sense of sorrow that finds no words. But if we find ourselves sorrowful, unable to speak, then what we think of the rest of the world continues to speak to us, sometimes painfully so:
Even the rain speaks in syllables
that can t be found in our language
and so do the crows
loud on the high slim branches
as if testing the sky,
and so do the stones that fall down
the shale cliffs, rattling their hard tongues.
A forbidding yet even sadness runs through these poems, much like a silent river running through the night, along with the sense that life, like a river, runs out too soon, despite all the pain that might flow within it. In Small Wisdoms, Fargnoli tells us:
We are lit matches under the eye of the great fires,
a short flame, and that s all of it.
The stars continue as far as we know,
as far as we can see, and as far was we can t.
Yet in How The Dead Live, Fargnoli concludes there is no flame left at all. The cigarette lighter of the heart/gone out. In On Reaching Sixty-Five, she laments that We old women are close to wool sweaters. And in the title poem, Duties of the Spirit, taken from a Thornton Wilder letter in 1930, she lists such duties, such as joy at the rhumba of sunrise, the serenity of a chair by a quiet window, and grief, let go as a loosening like scarves the wind takes. Even so, the first of these joy is in the brief seconds/which are all we can keep of happiness
As the backcover says, Fargnoli s poems open upon us, then open in us. Her subtle but gifted music and rhythm, her precise images which tell us more than they can say, and her quiet but steady manner, remind us, like the tragic beauty in the lines of Emily Dickinson, that the best of art splits us asunder, and also makes us whole.