Natasha Kochicheril Moni
ONE HUNDRED STEPS FROM SHORE
by Jenifer Browne Lawrence
Blue Begonia Press, 225 S. 15 th Avenue, Yakima, WA 98902; ISBN-13: 978-0-911287-56-1 (pbk.: alk.paper), ISBN-10: 0-911287-56-6 (pbk.: alk.paper), 79pp., $15.00
In photography, the technique of burning an image is employed to darken what may otherwise appear too light or under-exposed. To dodge stands for the reverse, as in lightening an overexposed item thereby rendering more crisp. Jenifer Browne Lawrence's first collection One Hundred Steps From Shore, demonstrates the poetic equivalent of dodging and burning. Through the vehicle of explored memory, Lawrence provides a lucid picture of what keeps/distorts in the presence of grief.
Dark, his eyes
spark memories that crack
like the chocolate coating
on soft-dipped cones we mouthed
on our trips to town--how the hard shell
flaked off, where vanilla pushed out
dripping, how it had to be licked at once,
before any of it touched our skin.
(from "Replacing the Deck")
Lyrically masterful yet spare, Lawrence invites her readers to witness as in these lines from the title piece "One Hundred Steps from Shore":
The policeman asks what I saw, what I heard.
He wants to know if I heard a screech.
I tell him no, just a thud and I ran to see
and I saw her. He asks me what I saw,
what I heard. I tell him I smelled pennies.
The characters in Lawrence's poems continue their attempts to rescue--mallards, garter snakes, a porcupine "in my shirt mews and mews / how did I come to be / the ferryman burying over / and over the same stick in the water" (from "Porcupine Child") as they cope with the loss of the young Carolyn. And with this impulse "The lesson has been passed through / generations like a relay baton: We do not save each other." (from "Making Out") But there is more than the relationship of family-to-family, "Learning To Paint" (section 3) is thick with growing up in Valdez, Alaska while "Tales From the 20 th Century" (section 4) revises the story of love.
One Hundred Steps From Shore, as with skilled creative nonfiction, achieves the delicate, critical balance between personal/universal with grace and precision. Lawrence creates a world within each quarter slice of her collection, drawing light where necessary:
Once, she thought she was going to do it,
hold her breath exactly forever,
but she awoke with a leaf on her chest,
dizzy and missing her mom.
(from “A Cottonwood Leaf Can Be Taken Apart”)
A sensory experience, One Hundred Steps From Shore speaks to an audience in the language of layered tongues. Within the ever-growing population of poetry, Jenifer Browne Lawrence is a voice to follow, for in the following one will be amazed for all the brightness achieved amidst shadow.