Scott Owens, Review of Carole Richard Thompson’s “Enough”
by Scott Owens
by Carole Richard Thompson
Enough, the title of Carole Richard Thompson’s new collection of poems, is defined as “a
quantity or degree that satisfies a need or desire.” It’s a nice, comforting sounding word, suggesting contentment, fullness, above all perhaps, satisfaction. It is a theme visited repeatedly in the poems, obviously in the title poem, but also in others such as “The Voyeur,” where the speaker imaginatively speaks to a morning robin she sees: “Here we are together, Bird. / You do not ponder religious philosophy / this Sunday morning, yet, you appear content.” Ultimately, satisfaction is both subject and effect of these poems, as they relate the satisfactions that come from a life well-lived and reflect those that come from poems well-crafted.
Among those satisfactions are such things as memory, tradition, insight, perseverance, and love. In poems like “Miss Edna,” about the speaker’s 3rd and 4th grade teacher, the reader encounters fond memories recalled through wonderfully specific, evocative imagery:
A small, locked drawer held a cache
of Smith Brothers licorice cough drops.
Craving anything sweet,
we coughed our heads off to get one.
Similarly strong imagery helps the reader appreciate the recalled beauty in “36 Hours”:
Our bedroom frames her regal pose, tawny
rippling muscles, eyes wary.
She quietly moves forward, turns
her proud head back – a signal.
We crouch behind the curtain
just as the first fawn
wobbles into view, followed quickly
by another baby, somewhat smaller.
Without the appreciation created in these lines, the tragic conclusion of the poem would fail to enlist the reader’s empathy and risk seeming simply maudlin.
Another of the satisfactions presented here is that of tradition, a theme treated in several of the poems but perhaps treated best in “Whisperers.” In this poem the speaker recognizes in her own culinary habits things she learned from her grandmother, her mother, and her aunts. As an idea, this is simple enough to say, perhaps, but Thompson manages to describe each of these habits in such a way that the reader must admit the presence of the speaker’s spiritual progenitors as something more meaningful than mere memory.
The satisfaction that arrives with insight is also presented in several poems but in none more clearly than “Crossing Lines,” where the speaker recalls father and daughter arriving at the “1947 Louisiana State Fair” only to discover that it was “Colored People’s Day.” Despite their incongruity, they are invited in by other attendees, leading to the father’s resonant conclusion that “Those people didn’t mind us being there at all.”
Perhaps the most memorable poem in the collection presents an unforgettable image of the satisfaction achieved through perseverance, hope, positivity. “Miz Lucille” presents the charming story of the speaker’s visit with the 83-year-old titular character who “plowed / the whole mountain all her life because / her old man was sorry.” True to the idea that good things come to those who wait, after Miz Lucille’s “old man” passed away, she is joined by Amos, about whom she says, repeatedly, “Amos is a dandy,” partially due to the fact that he is only 43. And to demonstrate Miz Lucille’s unwavering sense of hope, the speaker tells us that “she believed / in the power of prayer and was praying hard / to grow a third set of teeth.”
Of course no life would seem complete without knowing the satisfaction of love. Not expectedly, then, that too is major theme of the poems, and is most beautifully captured in “Feeding the Soul.” Here, the speaker’s husband muses:
If I died first, and could still remember today,
the way your body temperature matches
mine exactly, remember
your scent and taste, remember,
but, unable to reach out and hold you –
I’d prefer the nothingness before my life began.
And the speaker reflects:
Your words floated above us
until I drew them in,
opened my heart and received
enough for this life –
until you find me in the next.
To some degree, Enough is a powerful illustration of how to age, how to live to the end, graciously, contentedly, with patient acceptance. The first poem, “The House of Cards,” announces that purpose for the collection:
Inside, a very old woman waits, rocking
to a song with no words or music, remembering.
Neither joyful nor sad, she numbly endures
the repetition of years and seasons.
If she lives until spring, she will emerge
much like her tulips urged by the warmth.
Her gnarled hands and rusty coffee cans
will water every living thing, tear away dry vines,
expose new shoots to sun and rain.
And the later poem, “The Party’s Over,” expands the natural imagery that illustrates the attitude that in the larger context, our lives, whatever we’ve managed to create of them, must be enough:
The hills grow weary of the gaudy
season’s riot and wait for Winter’s
housekeeping to blow rattling
crumbs of faded leaves
down to valley below . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
the mountains year to pull up
snowy blankets and sleep
a dreamless Winter