Dordal distilled letters from her mother written between 1983 and 2001, and Milly’s pained references to the era’s historical disruptions, such as the beating of Rodney King and the first Persian Gulf War, have jolting, plainspoken power: “The Thomas hearings really upset me— / all those white male faces discounting Hill’s testimony. / I’m sorry he was confirmed. She’s the victim, not him.” These observations, preserved, connect past to present with startling clarity. They also remind readers of what has been lost when our records of our thoughts are stored on the servers of social media companies rather than in hand-written correspondence. What results is at times a double-edged grief, for the loss of Milly herself as well as for earlier, more permanent and personal methods of communication.
In the poem-letter “October 1992” Milly speaks to a truth that’s only gotten more so in the last thirty years: “there’s too much to take in.” Yet she strives to take it all in anyway, placing equal importance on inflection points in history, her daughter’s gym shoes, the heartening sight of an oriole “alight”ing on her back porch. In Dordal’s selections, the distinctions between trivial and profound dissolve, the results stirring refreshed appreciation for all moments in life, whether an adventure in cooking, an adventure across the world, or the kind of aching outrage any of us feel facing the news. All of it matters because all of it is part of our fragile, extraordinary existence.
Takeaway: Poignant epistolary collection sculpted from letters from the poet’s late mother.
Comparable Titles: Emma Reyes’s The Book of Emma Reyes, James Shuyler’s “A Stone Knife,” Evie Schuyler’s “From the Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass.”
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