“the flesh inside them once white and wet as snow”: Jennifer Grotz’s “The Snow Apples,” from Window Left Open

IMG_6313I’ve been slowly reading Jennifer Grotz’s third poetry collection, Window Left Open*, over the last three weeks, a keenly enjoyable experience because her poems invite the very kind of attentiveness that they demonstrate.

In “The Snow Apples,” which you can read here, the speaker considers the “Dulled, shrunken, nicked by wind-flung branches, / squirrel-pawed and beak-pierced, infested / macabre baubles hanging” from the apple tree in February, grasping the branches when most apples  fell together in  “a syncopation” in autumn. These winter apples the speaker compares to “a hard knot / deep in the core, something winter / winnow me down to.” I like the clever use of “core” here, the way the line breaks so that for a a moment the reader can imagine that the “hard knot” is “something winter.” The sadness of these “indegestible” apples “piled beneath the earth’s pelt of snow” is a disquieting, vivid metaphor for the speaker’s sense of disturbance in the long gray months.

Engagement with the natural world runs through Window Left Open, in which you’ll find (in just the first section) a forest with an “unending / staircase of roots worn silver like the soldered iron / that holds stained glass together,” snowflakes “denticulate as dandelion greens,” a display of living, giant cockroaches alongside pinned butterflies, rain “stately at first as punctuation,” a foreign city with “a gray, nearsighted river / one that massages the eyes, focuses / the sweeping birds that skim the water’s surface.”

The second section of the book finds the poet meditating on her time at a French monastery. There’s a poem about a piano in the Alps, one about the impossibility of glimpsing the entirety of a mountain from a window, another about a peacock “as strange as Mount Rushmore.” One of my favorites is called “Apricots,” which will make you see the fruit in a whole new way (“And the ripe ones, which felt like biting into / my own flesh, slightly carnivorous.”).

It’s tempting to go on quoting the memorable images in these poems; it’s harder to get at the sense of the speaker observing not only her world, but herself, and finding unexpected loveliness and unexpected fear, often at the same time. In “Poppies,” Ms. Grotz writes,  “Love is letting the world be half-tamed.” If you look closely enough at anything—an animal, a window, even a word—you’ll find a distancing peculiarity, and Ms. Grotz translates that feeling in these poems. She has a gift for making the familiar strange, and making the strange familiar. I highly recommend Window Left Open.

Further reading:

Ta-Nehisi Coates on “Poppies”

“Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City”

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

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