I came to wailing last night and now am certain that what I thought
was shallow water rushing over stones, the current embracing my
tightening form, was really mother-hush, her small arms holding
me a little longer here.
(“Comes to Worse”)
Chris Dombrowski’s second full-length collection, Earth Again, is difficult to summarize, but startlingly familiar. In it, the earth—our known world—is described both as a physical place where our often-banal lives play out, and also a dream-like world we may have collectively imagined into existence. The collection contains both short and long poems, all of which seem to explicitly or implicitly ask the reader to consider nature and humanity; just how separate are we from the world in which we live?
The setting (so to speak) of the collection is rooted very much in the natural world. The speaker is so often in “the one mind of the woods” (“Sustenance”), examining snow, the moon, geese in flight. It is winter again and again in the poems, and the speaker is forever reminding us of this: “My work is wonder, which has for too long/seemed a distant season. But it’s winter now” (“The Roofers Listen to Heart’s ‘Crazy On You’ As They Work”). And in “Eavesdripping Hour, Sunday Afternoon,” “it’s not right to feel this warm on a winter day but I do.”
The coldness of winter triggers the speaker’s memory, and remembering is very much a framework for this collection. In “Blown Snow,” for example, the speaker watches snow “galloping headlong in grains” and remembers his newborn daughter crying in “the hour of vanishing.” The poem “Wintering,” too, makes a similar move between winter and memory, using it as an occasion for a story to be shared with the reader. And in sharing these memories, the speaker frequently conflates human nature with the natural world. Again in “Blown Snow,” the tears of the newborn “turns skin folds / around her neck into rivers of salt,” and in “The Weeks Before You Were Born . . . ,” the mountains suddenly become the speaker’s unborn child.
Memory also manifests itself in the ordinary details of daily living: “Just before the tea cools to the precise temperature / of a tear, and the cup, warm, weighs heavy in the hand” (“Ghazal In Which End Word Repetition Is Implied”). Or, in “Inscription”:
Meaning you don’t watch as I describe them
Or, from memory, what’s behind the lids: dual
Creeks taking separate draws down the same
Mountain, tow passages, two ungovernable
Frontiers. From memory?
The speaker is seemingly both comforted by memories and also afraid. “What is scarier than the self? / Home” (“Hammock Poem”). But the feelings evoked by these memories appear to be less important than the act of telling. The poems are about presenting, and specifically, presenting to the reader the connection between human nature and Mother Nature, between self and the earth.
The poems are not all told from one point of view, but contain many voices, which correspond with the many forms found in the collection. Indeed, even within one poem there are often several voices, as in “Comes To Worse”—a devastating poem about the death of a child—the heart of this collection. All the questions about nature and humanity appear here, but there is sacredness in the asking in this poem, tethering all the other poems in Earth Again, keeping them afloat. There is a boy sleeping in his bed, there is grief and the wind buffeting the speaker’s eardrum. In the end, this speaker acknowledges that survival on this earth might mean simply wishing a dead child “more earth, in the bluntest of terms: another stolen swig of whiskey / brief as a July snow, another hard tumble on his board, another / fuck, another hummingbird” (“Comes To Worse”).