by Nancy Takacs
Blue Begonia Press,
Selah, Washington, 2015
Reviewed by Carol Henrikson
To breathe in, then become
the elderberry, the blue night, the bees, the rose,
In her latest book, Blue Patina, Nancy Takacs brings Rilke’s statement on the poet’s work to mind: “We are the bees of the invisible” – as he wrote in 1925 to his Polish translator -- “We… plunder the visible of its honey, to accumulate it in the great golden hive of the invisible.” Takacs’ poetry shows her at this work, “the work” – as Rilke goes on – “of these continual conversions of the beloved visible and tangible…into the vibration spheres of the universe…” To plunder, like a bee, to “go in” -- this is what Takacs does from the start, continually transforming her experience, the visible and tangible world, through imagery’s alchemy. She asks the world for its nectar and poetry spills forth.
In the first poem of the book, “The Voices” -- set in her New Jersey city neighborhood where she grew up by the “dark wings” of Newark Bay – we find her seeking, wanting to go in, from the start. Takacs begins:
My bee and blossom voice
hums in my wrist each morning, flies out
over fields, bumbles through dust
in the April wind, flies low to the apple trees
to lose myself whole in each center.
This is the poet’s intent: to enter the world with her whole self, to listen to her body, to find connectedness and wholeness with in relationship to Nature and with others. She knows: “the bee blossom/voice/says it will spill its spring language/if I begin:/Open./Go in. Go in.”
As Takacs delves back into stories from her Bayonne childhood and young womanhood, so she delves into the memory of other landscapes. In part II of the book, “Utah Map,” she shifts into the landscape of her marriage, move to Utah, and the life she and her husband create there; in section III, to the Wisconsin backdrop of her questioning and answering “Worrier” poems, where the “I” – going deeper into
areas of hurt, anxiety, danger, self undergoing a process reminiscent of psychoanalysis; and in the last, for example, to the Ohio farmlands of “Still,” poems which return to memories of early sweetness. She sips nectar from it all. Throughout, Nature is the source she wants to drink from, is -- as she says in “Winter Tea” -- the cure.
I want to hear the unasked questions stir…
to feel how the needles
of hemlock dissolve in a pond,
and know under the surface
how long the trail of a rhizome
can be, for one blossom.
Blue Patina exudes Takacs’ sense of the transformative, healing power of Nature, even or especially when we feel lost, disconnected, and as we face earth’s loss. Geography, a sense of place, provides the wildness she treasures, as in “Balance Rock, October:”
We never tell where we jeep for lunch
between nearby canyon walls whose dark
patina sheens to indigo, sapphire, a swarm of blues;
petroglyphs float under alcoves
near Swasey’s Leap; silent orange vistas
accordion at The Wedge. (Balance Rock, October/Helper, Utah)
And in “Escalante,” again delving into language as she delves into landscape, Takacs shows how difficult emotion, “a sudden squall on Lake Superior,” can be softened, become “an old flannel shirt/from my husband’s closet,” become the wild, ancient earth itself:
Tomorrow my anger will be a beach in Utah,
warm in the dry heat, easy to walk on.
It will live in a canyon where Anasazi ruins
run along the river, where there is still
a granary of turkey bones a thousand years old,
grinding stones and ancient arrowheads.
I will lie down, discover above me ghost-shaped
petroglyphs in the dark blue patina,
make red castles with a mortar mixed from sand
and a river named Escalante.
As Takacs turns her attention to wildness, many creatures appear, and engender humanity. There are the deer, as in “The New Year at Albertson’s” where she and Kelly, the grocery store’s check-out clerk, who has survived breast cancer and who has “rusty car breaks in her voice," discuss the hungry deer who come close to their houses at night:
since she and I live
just a few miles apart
on the same river,
and we know they’re there
under the moon at midnight
hoofing through snow
for the fallen apples.
There are the birds, as in “Yellow-Headed Blackbird,” who, to help it survive through the desert drought, she promises:
I’ll set out
water under every tree if you raise
your young among the milkweed
and bindweed in my yard.
You and your boldness,
your lemon and licorice…
There is the bear – in these Wisconsin-based “Worrier” poems --- who comes to the feeder in “Worrier/hummingbird feeder,” and “Worrier/raspberries:”
And what will you do when you meet the bear?
I’ll offer her some words,
a loose weft, jangle my ego, be grateful.
There is, in the Ohio landscape of “Still,” the fisher cat, of “North American Fisher,” whom she fears and honors:
Afraid of you, that you will take our pets.
Loving that you are here
even in the daytime, hunting, brutal, shy,
in the woods like music…
and whose scream (as the fisher is “most likely hunting rabbits,” she says at the end of “The Foxglove”) enters her, becomes one, in her body, with the watercolor she is painting of the flower, “as though someone had reached/into me for the bloom.”
And in the poem, “September,” it is with reverence that she adds a dead skunk, a dead robin, to the compost – the wildness, plight and fate of animals calls her. In the poem, “Dear Students,” bees appear outside the window of the room where Takacs is teaching a poetry class, as the talk has become a discussion about how women feel about their bodies:
I loved the way you were quiet at first,
how your words came slow, then hummed,
like the bees at our classroom windows;
In “The Worrier/bees,” Takacs explores the anxiety around the presence of bees in the her life:
What did the bees mean?
The fairy tales where children get taken.
Something you can’t control.
And how did you come to love them?
I stayed in an old house in the woods once
with my husband when we were young.
The house had no screens. We didn’t know
there was a swarm on the outside wall. When
we closed our books, and put away our lantern,
we were stung and stung.
What do the bees mean to you now?
They mean sweetness, drowsiness.
Wings on my arms in sunlight.
With her sensual, visceral imagery, Takacs creates, enacts, oneness. In “The Foxglove,” she tells – in the “bee-blossom voice” she has always kept -- how she goes in, and how the foxglove she paints becomes her body:
winds through my ribcage
in white, lipped with carnelian,
is meant to protect
the heart, the breath. It rises
from my paper, where the watercolor
of a river is dark, with a light sky,
warm river. It makes the paper
leaf out in the rain,
paisley shells, dry canoes. The foxglove
blossoms through my breast,
near my heart
a nest of baby gartersnakes….
“Process’ at the Balance Rock Café,” shows her entering the wildness of a painting (by David Dornan) she views on exhibit at this Helper, Utah café – a painting of his own studio shown in exuberant disarray, featuring a dresser he works from, piled chaotically with all his artist’s materials -- Nancy Takacs “plunders” the image, immersing herself, and us along with her, in it:
Now I know all I really love is color,
blood in the process, how truth
comes from the shuffle,
touched, moved aside, jumbled, left to wait…
Now I know I need the sudden turquoise ear
inside the lemon yellow house,
lavender anemones over corrugated
ribs, the tin ribs, the bare ribs,
a whiteness more like rose-cream,
orange a true orange into fluorescent-orange into red,
lipped over undercoats of lime, violet, battleship;
two mixing sticks with curves of chair legs,
swirled in milky blossom, left to balance
on the bottom drawer like whirled tight-ropes.
In Blue Patina, we hear the music – written out of Takacs’ love,
for this perishable world – hear the words becoming one with,
as Rilke puts it, “the vibration spheres of the universe” -- even in the quiet language of her poem, “Yoga Class:”
I like it when the moments
fall gently into one another,
end up on some island
with no human footprints
and many bear.