Nancy Posey, Review of Kimberly Pittman-Schulz’s “Mosslight”
by Nancy Posey
Future Cycle, 2012
Kimberley Pittman-Schulz, in her poetry collection Mosslight, the 2011 FutureCycle Book Prize Winner, has created a body of work that gives insight into her refreshing view of the world without intruding so completely that readers cannot place themselves into the poems.
Pittman-Schulz fully, artfully inhabits the natural world in her poetry, a world inhabited by shrews, mice, butterflies and an old calico cat, managing to move successfully beyond mere description–and her details are beautifully drawn, specific–to effortless metaphor, anchoring the images to her human world.
To describe the tone of a work, especially a collection, as “happy” seems far too simplistic, yet that gentlest of adjectives appears throughout her poems. Ironically, the poetry deals implicitly with loss of a mother to cancer. The speaker in the second poem “Magic” recalls a small moment with her mother, barely hinting at a subsequent event of inexplicable loss.
In the poem, “After Chemotherapy,” the speaker recalls bathing her ailing mother, whose identity is revealed initially in the speaker’s attention to “her long, perfect fingers that remember / doing all of this for me.” Pittman-Schulz unfolds this incident without giving in to the maudlin, but instead focusing on the “sky ripe with stars, spilling a path of light / over her bed, a brilliance fading,” then comes around in the final stanza to note, “My mother / is a star, cooling.”
In much of the collection, the speaker seems to face loss and the inevitability of death, even her own, with a clear-eyed acceptance, sometimes alone, but not necessarily lonely. She admits in “Tide,” a poem about a walk along the cold Pacific beach, “When someone / you love dies, for so long / you want to follow.” Searching the natural world for some evidence of her mother’s presence, she recalls her repeated admonition, “Don’t cry.”
Throughout the collection, the speaker indicates that she has the option to find contentment and meaning in the smallest details of the world around her. In “Morning Prayer, Late July,” as she brushes her arthritic cat, she ponders life and loss, noting that “Every day someone–a mother or father / some finch or fox, a stand of spruce–dies” but goes on to say, “I let myself be happy / over nothing in particular. . . .” That happiness–not the sense of loss– inhabits these poems most fully.
It also pervades “December, Something Lit,” a poem set at night but infused with points of tiny lights–“The beam of a flashlight. . . a glowworm.” She observes, “I’m at that time of life / where something is always flaring / or extinguishing.” This realization leads her to find happiness in smallest single deeds.
Her consolation and resignation comes through close observation of even the smallest details. In the poem “Lewis River, Breathing,” she counters the claim of “how big and mean / the world is” by observing light, leaves, flowers, birds and mosses and declaring that “This morning the world is small / and kind enough.”
That same attention she pays to the natural details in her world, most frequently her home near the Pacific in Northern California, and in one section of the book her travels to Peru and Alaska, she uses to craft her poems. Her use of imagery and figurative language are fresh and subtle, effective without drawing attention to their use. She personifies a single twig of forsythia, with “tangled limbs / full of knuckles” until they “finally open their fists into flowers [and] smear / the stick grains of longing onto / the chins of bees. . . .”
She sees tiny stitches in the footprints of birds as “juncos and grouse quilt the snow / with their walking” in “January.” In “Oranges,” she observes “A fox sparrow, turning over fallen leaves / as if reading the scattered pages / of a book.” Even the “crust of sand / in the corners [of our eyes remind] us that every night / our bodies try to wander home / without us,” she notes in “Every Morning.”
Pittman-Schulz chooses her words with the same careful attention to detail, incorporating alliteration, consonance, and internal rhyme with a subtlety that often renders her lines as musical, inviting one to read them aloud, as in “Nurse Log,” in which she observes, “There is a language larger / than words, the way breath rising / licks everything on its way up / and won’t be contained.”
In Mosslight, Kimberley Pittman-Schulz has found that language as she moves through the seasons, looking closely at beads of moisture on spider webs or at a family of opossums waddling across the yard, leading her to mutter “wonderful, wonderful” or taking stock in “Openings” of all she has been given and concluding, “This is enough, / and still there is more.”