Review by Michelle McEwen
by Rosie King
2299 Mattison Lane
Santa Cruz, CA
94 pp., $12.00
Sweetwater, Saltwater, Rosie King’s first book of poems, is not only a baptizing of fine-crafted poetry, it is a baptizing of nature and exploration; it’s a nod, too, to the times when teachers were superstars and when one could play outside until dark—coming home worn-out and drenched in outside smell. From the beginning (the book’s cover is an image of a girl and the author playing in water), we are emerged immediately—even before opening the book—into the poet’s sweetwater, saltwater world.
In “Midsummer Homecoming,” the first poem, that word “homecoming” tugs at you, warning you that you’ve been missing something. Aptly placed in the book, this poem hints that this is not just a book of poems, it is a homecoming back to nature and exploration—back to the root of life. “It was the summer of the landing on the moon,” begins the poem. What better way than this to say, let the exploring begin.
In most of the poems in Sweetwater, Saltwater, you feel as if the author has a hold of your hand, leading you through her world. She pulls you along (drags you if you are unwilling at first) and you find yourself becoming smitten with what she’s smitten by: “the hems of wedding dresses” and the “[pie] in the oven/plumped in its deep dish” and the “velvety back of the old blue Chrysler.”
In the poem “Rain Song — a child longed for,” she writes:
I take you back
under the rose arbor, the way through
to the backyard with the cherry tree—
up a ladder, in the branches,
mouths and buckets full of sweet bright
I show you the house we lived in …
In this poem, the “you” mentioned is in reference to the “child longed for.” However, the “you” can be us, the readers, too. Rosie King is taking us under that rose arbor and showing us the house where she lived.
In the title poem, she tells of a hot summer in 1901 when her grandparents met and of the subsequent shaping of a family because of their meeting:
Hot summer when my grandparents met, a Great Lakes
fourth of July— families and picnics off to the
bay, the train
stalled on the track, young Bill
running through the coach
where Clara sat, sixteen,
in her ruffled shirtwaist …
This poem is more than a trip down memory lane, more than putting a story to a photograph; this is a journey to the start of how she came to be, and with our hands in hers, she takes us all the way back to that meeting in the summer of 1901 and we are there— fresh off a time-machine. She evokes the time-machine-feeling again in the poem “After Miss Shelley, Miss Hattersley, Miss Guilford—”, a poem about a third grade teacher she cannot quite remember:
wondering at the mystery of her.
Like a fan blowing cool air in summer, her face
bends down to me, strands of her hair—
it must have been long— or the rayony
swish of her skirt lightly brushing my arm…
We all can recall that teacher, even if we can’t recall the name. Rosie King calls to mind, with this poem, a time when children looked up to their teachers and carried what they learned with them long after school ended.
As I read Sweetwater, Saltwater, I found myself between and beyond the lines. I saw me bent and hunched, pulling back branches and wading through the water and exploring— with the author ahead of me, saying “Look! Look!”
Sweetwater, Saltwater, is the most re-readable poetry book I’ve come across in a long time. After the first reading, I was smitten; I couldn’t get enough; I was hungry for more and I found myself sharing a similar kind of hunger with Rosie King in “Midsummer Homecoming”:
“… and I/still so hungry/for the boy running up the field saying Rosie, Rosie”
Michelle McEwen lives, dreams, and writes in central Connecticut. With a BA in English Writing from the University of Pittsburgh, she has had work published in the Best New Poets 2007 anthology and online at BigCityLit.com, Umbrellajournal.com, and Storyscapejournal.com. She can be contacted at: Mimsy75@gmail.com