Plum Ruby Book Review
The Valley's Singing Day
window curtain hung over the sill to wet;
But I should awake to confirm your story yet;
I should be willing to say and help you say
That once you had opened the valley's singing day." --Robert Frost
Reviewed by G.S.
Almost immediately into Erin Noteboom's
2003 book, Ghost Maps: Poems for Carl Hruska, one senses
a compassionate approach to telling a story that, perhaps, resisted
being told. "The mind has maps," she writes: "carries the ghost
self/close and secret, like a man/buttoning a scalloped snapshot/into
his heart's pocket." It is this "heart's pocket" that Noteboom is
bent on exposing, the maps that mark our secrets and pain, leading
towards the ultimate question that is the basis of Ghost Maps:
"How much of the memory/is carried in the body?"
For Carl Hruska, the pseudonymous figure at the center of Ghost
Maps, this ghost self has its genesis in an early memory of
crossing the Atlantic by steamer towards war. "There is a theory/about
this," Noteboom tells us, "the way pain builds its nest/like paper
wasps/in a branch gone hollow." Carl is traveling towards that very
20th-century plague: fighting a war in the fields of Europe. It
is the winter of 1944/1945 in a rural part of northern France called
the Ardennes, scattered with small villages, stone bridges and criss-crossing
fields. A French military officer once claimed that the Ardennes
forest was "not dangerous. It is impenetrable." But the Nazis proved
him wrong in a series of events that would later collectively be
named "The Battle of the Bulge." For Carl this big man's war becomes
a personal, lonely winter spent scavenging, keeping warm, witnessing
only fragments of the largely invisible war, holding onto memories
of his hometown in Kansas and a woman called Vivian.
Divided into six sections, the first third of the book, "Fall" and
"Winter," are characterized by isolation.
||They slept in stooks
leaning in like sheaves of wheat,
their wordless breath a fog between them
so that when they woke
their slung rifles were edged
much of the memory
is carried in the body?
Lost bones speak to him of vision,
of deep water. Phantom,
it's called, that voice, that itch.
||All day, he does
slow work. He has seen fire
do it quicker -- shells popping limbs
with blind precision.
Through the twilight, now,
black dog bounding like a mortar.
blue field, he sees a buck
lift up his head, then arc
into the air, like a bridge of silence.