Dave Wood's Book Report, July 2, 2008
St. Paul poet Margaret Hasse is out with her third book, "Milk and Tides," (Nodin Press, $16). Hasse writes about motherhood, aging, her childhood memories of South Dakota. She writes about real stuff that often hits me close to home. Here's a prose poem that reminded me of my late mother:
"Soir de Paris or Evening in Paris started to be sold in the 1920s as an inexpensive perfume. By the 1950s it was touted as 'the fragrance more women wear than any other in the world,' yet by 1969 it had disappeared.
"A woman in her periwinkle cotton housedress lies on a sagging sofa with a piece of Scotch tape pressed onto the furrows between her eyes to flatten wrinkles. Six children, two in diapers, buzz around her like blue flies she must brush away in order to nap, in order to keep from crying. She is so tired, she dreams of a blue baby lost under a stone lamb. This same woman rises refreshed with her violet blue eyes and a new soft blue velvet in her voice, to let her oldest daughter select for her a dressy dress, watch as she touches a finger to the cobalt blue lips of a bottle: Evening in Paris eau de toilette (a phrase that makes her children giggle). On the nape of her neck hidden by hair, on the wrist where the veins run blue and so cool, she shivers in the August heat. Carrying a pocketbook, wearing lipstick, she takes the arm of her husband in his Navy uniform. They step out into blue dusk pulling down its shade over the Missouri River. They step out for an evening in South Dakota."
Years after my mother died, I discovered in her suede-bound book of love poetry, a flower pressed by her many decades ago. Hasse's "Found in My Mother's Budget Book" rekindled my memory of mother's book:
"A dried blossom thin/ as tissue paper dropped/ from a budget book/belonging to Mother./ An aster maybe, the color/ too drained to discern. Petals overlap/ liked clasped hands./ in the ledger she kept,/ line after line/ of worried digits/ crouch as if the pen/ were mean with ink. / Each expense noted:/ 10 cents for eggs/ 25 cents -- cotton shirt/
$1 to pull a tooth./ outlay must agree/ with narrow income./ After a close winter,/ after a cool spring,/ finally in summer/ we went walking/ in country in country ditches/ in sandy fields/ everywhere, in Dakota./ For free, we vased/ raffish pink roses,/ took a teacup of/ common blue violets,/ poked oxeye daisies/ into a tin can --/ extravagance/ anyone could afford./ Small wonder she saved/ a wildflower/ to balance the chart/ of her accounts."
Minneapolis publisher CarolRhoda Press continues to publish works of historic significance aimed at children. Its latest is "Angel Girl," by Laurie Friedman, Illustrations by Ofra Amit ($16.95 cloth). Friedman tells the true story of Herman Rosenblatt, a Jewish boy incarcerated and forced into hard labor with little food. And then "Angel Girl" appears on the other side of the barbed wire fence, bring food and hope.
Heading for the lake? Here's a thriller that should set you on edge as the rain drizzles down on your cabin roof. It's "Say Goodbye," by Lisa Gardner (Bantam, $25) and tells the story of FBI agent Kimberly Quincy on the hunt for a serial killer who uses spiders to accomplish dirty works. Quincy is especially interested because her own mother and sister were victims of a serial killer. Watch out for spiders in your cabin.
On a more serious note and a book for your home library, not your spider-ridden cabin, there's a fine new reference book for anyone interested in American culture. It's "The Oxford Companion to the American Musical," by Thomas Hischak (Oxford University Press, $39.95). The Companion is a compendium of information about musicals, performers, composers, lyricists, producers, choreographers, all done up in chronological order from George Abbott to the Ziegfield Follies. It also includes a handy appendix of recordings and awards given over the years.
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.