Review: “The Month in Which We Are Born”


The Month in Which We Are Born, Danielle Susi
Dancing Girl Press, 2015, $7

Despite its brevity, Danielle Susi’s chapbook The Month In Which We Are Born manages to pack in a lot. The slim volume traces the arc of life in 12 poems—and is bookended by thoughtful meditations on death.

“What happens in wreckage when teeth / have been so changed / from the original dental record / via orthodontia or otherwise?,” Susi asks in the opening piece, “Ode to Absorption.” While that poem conjures an accident, the closing piece, “Drowning,” invokes a chosen death, a suicide pondered if not carried out: “We should let our lungs / pull us down to the lake’s thick bottom / We should let this hook take us.”

But in between there are odes to life—sometimes ecstatic, other times sober and mournful. The poem from which the chapbook takes its name recalls the speaker and her younger brother playing a game of imagination in their childhood home.

…we would stare at beamed ceilings
for hours, discovering the fish, the faces, the tiny sail-less boats.
We’d go to bed dreaming of the ways lines worked to trick our eyes
and in the morning, find images in our bowls of cereal.

Into those last two lines, one perhaps could also read a metaphor for poetry, noting how the lines trick the eyes and conjure images. Here, the length of Susi’s lines is reminiscent of prose poetry—and indeed, five of the book’s poems are prose poems. But Susi doesn’t sacrifice lyricism to that particular form. “Ceremony,” for instance, is full of lilting alliteration: “footprints of fingernail fossils”; “perpetual motion of memory”; “careful curatorial eye.”

In “Pareidolia”—the term for a type of illusion perceived as something significant—Susi channels the refrain, repeating various iterations of “Today on my train,” and invoking the rhythmic click-clack of train wheels. The pareidolia experienced by the poem’s protagonist involves pop culture icons: “I thought I saw John Lennon / get on my train today. / I thought I saw Morgan Freeman / sitting in the corner of my train today.” But it ends on a note of grace: “I thought I saw my mother / on the train today. / Today on the train, a woman looked at me / as if she had raised me.”

Due to their short length, some chapbooks can leave a reader unsatisfied. But the unity and energy of the poems here allow The Month In Which We Are Born to read like a longer, fully realized work.