by Keith Taylor
In her new collection of poems, White Sea, Cleopatra Mathis writes, "I have lost my killer instinct / for beauty, for embellishing and relishing / the art of it." She has come to this place the one where she refuses the easy consolations of the beautiful the hard way. Although several losses and illnesses are suggested in the poems, the death of one particular friend becomes the inconsolable dark heart of the book. In the long poem "Called Back," she describes that friend's illness and death. "When she understood she'd entered another country, / crossed the chasm between illness and health, / well-being now forever on the other side," she assumed that intense inward gaze so many of us have noticed while watching the slow deaths of those we love. "The fact of dying took up every space, all her weight / belonged to it, all her self in its service." In a later poem, the poet continues to refuse the usual sympathies:
| We'll call this dying: the soul |
fumbles out of the dark room into
hallway, almost feeling its way as it
from the body's time and space.
| . . . all of them |
repel me with their unflinching need.
The body dies, they eat it,
rot and all, a progression
not so different from the ordinarily beautiful
flower giving itself up to fruit, then the fruit
withering for the sake of seed.
And so on, without sentiment.
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