Searching for What is Not There

When I interviewed Martin Willitts Jr. a few years ago, we discussed how poetry editors are people too. Now, reading the review copy of his poetry book, Searching for What is Not There published by Hiraeth Press, I realized what an accomplished poet he is, and how I’m already looking forward to re-reading this slender volume of verse.

Addressing universal themes of life, death, love, and loss, the book opens with the title poem, which gives us entry into exquisite poetry that often uses nature as a metaphor or means of explaining what cannot be explained: “Looking into a lake, things are elsewhere, off/ center as love when it first enters and leaves.”

In “How I Know Things Are Coming Back,” we get a glimpse of lupines, peonies, columbines, and the bloom of humor as the poet admits: “My garden is too small for my ambitions./ I have to work tight, constricted,/ composing haiku of underlying colors.” And in “The Cricket,” that tiny critter “preaches in song” as the poet sings, too, “under an open window of moonlight” where “The night hears me./ It knows my bamboo-flute heart. It knows/ the shortening seasons.”

As each of us approaches our own succession of losses, we also reach our moments of “Letting Go” where the poem by that name reminds us: “The wildness is everywhere – old branches/ break off in soft winds like loose teeth;/ rocks break free of the ground where they have been/ longer than memory; rivers are changing the ground around them.” Inviting us into this communal experience, the poet asks: “How can this continue, you may wonder./ Put the oars into your boat and see where you go.”

Yet another inviting poem asks by way of title, “What Will Happen If We Pull Down the Empty Sky,” then winsomely warns: “Dreams would crash on our heads,/ all those prayers we felt went nowhere/ would fall on us as meteorites.”

Even in the seriousness of loss, levity lifts and coaxes us, too, to begin “Singing in the Apron of Stars.” Having gone before us, the poet says, “I was liberated, for even a moment,/ to do what my heart knew instinctually right,/ and I was doing what I should be doing./ I was clipping the hedges with hymns.”

Nevertheless, euphoria and certainty do not last, and occasionally we might find ourselves, as the poet did, “Three Hours Before New Years and Counting” – even though “I knew that New Years Day was off to a bad start/ when snow began to fall inside of my closet, geese flew from the coat hangers,/ and someone tobogganed out of the shoe boxes.”

Real or imagined, such unexpected moments lead us lightly toward the closing poem commemorating “Things We Find Instead of Other Things.” But then, “That is the problem with seeking./ Sometimes, we do not find what we want to find,/ and we find other things instead.” Even so, “There is always something in the nothingness./ Wild winds thin out into smells from apple blossoms,” where, like the poet, “I am always wondering/ what is just beyond.”

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem, also published by Hiraeth Press

Searching for What is Not There, paperback

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