Keeping Planes in the Air
Page Count: 94
Publication Date: Thursday, March 05, 2020
Cover Artwork: Photograph by Jessie Lendennie
About this Book
In this thoughtful and nuanced collection, Lori Desrosiers maps that country sometimes called the past, sometimes called memory, into which loved ones have gone or soon will be disappearing. It’s a space limned by nostalgia, which can be beautiful for the trace of what used to be, in the way that an armless goddess is lovely. It’s a place inhabited by spectral presences who don’t seem to realize they are going or gone— Such is the thrall and pull that this world still exerts over all of us. And so, the ghosts of those who perished in the tsunami in Japan hail taxis and reserve private rooms at hotels. The poet’s grandmother at 70 shoplift[s] at the five and dime. The ghost of Emily Dickinson speaks through her washbowl, her inkwell, her quill. In the ordinary calamity of our days, we seek their guidance and benevolence. Among those still with us, we realize we miss each other even while we’re still here. Love is a longing thrown across a bridge where someone is waiting on the other side: we call to each other, we wait for the answer. The poems in Keeping Planes in the Air live in both the waiting and the calling—but the poet gently reminds us that it is the work of our breathing that keeps things aloft.
Poet Henrik Nordbrant speaks of “the glow which approaching death/ leaves on photographs of people who died young/ in the memory of those left behind.” Such is the aura of singular brilliance in the face of utter bereavement and forfeiture manifested in the verse found in Lori Desrosiers’ new volume of poems, Keeping Planes in the Air. The poetry tendered here widens from an insular grief toward “finding beauty in imperfection/ how skin stretches to accommodate/ bones their restless march towards death.” We glimpse the poet’s vision in a space where “the ghost of our intentions/ lingers in peripheral vision/ like the flash of light/ from a torn retina,” and in those glimmers of an afterlife “we are torn/ between staying put/ and taking flight.” Keeping Planes in the Air is for any of us who have witnessed the ambiguity of holding onto our lives and loves in the constant presence of an impending loss that leaves us (and the poet) with a wounded wonderment ‘which is/ more than [we] can fathom/ or just enough.”
Lori Desrosiers’ other poetry books are The Philosopher’s Daughter, Salmon Poetry, 2013, and Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, Salmon Poetry, 2016. She has two chapbooks, Inner Sky (2015) and typing with e.e. cummings (2019), both from Glass Lyre Press. Her poems have appeared in New Millennium Review, Cutthroat, Peacock Journal, String Poet, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene's Fountain, New Verse News, Mom Egg Review, and many other journals and anthologies. She was a finalist for the Joy Harjo poetry contest and the New Millennium contest. Her poem “about the body” won the Liakoura poetry award from Glass Lyre Press. She holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She founded and edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry and Wordpeace.co, an online journal dedicated to social justice. She teaches Poetry in the Interdisciplinary Studies program for the Lesley University M.F.A. graduate program. Her website is loridesrosierspoetry.com.
Review: Keeping Planes in the Air reviewed by Lisa C. Taylor for Mom Egg Review (January 2021)
Lori Desrosiers’ third full-length poetry collection, Keeping Planes in the Air builds a narrative about the ways in which family history plays out in the most mundane of moments. The poet grapples with power and perceived power, like a mother conjuring safety for her children when they fly, praying that the planes would stay aloft. The rational and irrational trade stories as family legends are passed through generations.
The poem, “My Grandmother Shoplifted” tells a story of longing for glitter and trinkets, perhaps as the grandmother’s mental acuity deteriorates. This longing for power, both elusive and compelling echoes throughout the collection.
In the poem, “the ghost of our intentions”, the poet contemplates the imperfections of language as a parental voice chides it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. Misunderstandings proliferate between peers, parents and children, as human inclination seems to be to assume the worst. This poem addresses the ghost of intention that lingers as people try their best to make language rational and comprehensible, only to fail to get their intended idea across.
“the ghost of our intentions/lingers in peripheral vision/like the flash of light/from a torn retina.” (p. 22)
Like a mother trying to control what she cannot, the idea of powerlessness is present in many of these poems. This is the poetry of a mature writer, one who has experienced a loss of friends, relationships and family members. There is the slow grief of a parent slipping away and the power of a woman liberating herself from a difficult relationship. Every ending brings acceptance of the inevitable march of age and mortality.
Keeping Planes in the Air is divided into three sections: Presence and Absence, Bodies and Dreams, and Space and Possibilities. Each section anchors itself with historical context, whether familial or random, such as a boy glimpsed on a train playing with the zipper on his backpack. The poems seem to posit that we’re all travelers, bumping into the past or present at unexpected intervals. A memory can be triggered by a sound, a scent, a familiar landscape. The nostalgia in these poems is tinged with melancholy for simpler times, even as the poems question whether the perception of that innocence is edited by the memory’s unreliability.
In the last section, Space and Possibilities, a poem, “Second sleep” captures the essence of a long relationship with tender wistfulness.
Keeping Planes in the Air recognizes vulnerability and the learning that can come from imperfect or even hurtful relationships. There is an inherent wisdom in the poems, but they are not without humor or whimsy. Like most families, the parade of characters that populate the pages—a father who wears Old Spice, a mother who only cooks two things, a grandmother who brightens her life with stolen baubles, are not unlike most families. The quirks, superstitions and stories are imprinted. It is that richness that Lori Desrosiers puts in her poems, granting a kind of immortality to both the nemeses and saviors of her past. Lori Desrosiers’ latest work reiterates what many inherently realize. All of us carry the learning within, the Space and Possibilities of how we want to be remembered and the stories we tell our friends and our children and grandchildren. Failures are as important as successes, and a life without hardship or loss is not possible. These poems are hopeful, celebrating foibles and failures as well as moments that ultimately define a life well-lived.