A Review of Marion Kimes’ Last Year’s Horse
by Judith Roche
Marion Kimes’ Last Year’s Horse is a generous collection at 172 pages, and generous is a word that often appears in the poems. “Be generous,” the birds at her bird feeder remind her at the beginning of winter. Now in her seventh decade, and after five or six smaller books, Marion Kimes’ new collection is a record of a life lived and loved, beauty found, and created, and “teasing out the ghost of meaning” from life as it unfolds. It is her lifetime selection, culled from a life dedicated to poetry, her oeuvre. Marion Kimes has been almost omnipresent at Seattle poetry readings and performances in the last twenty or so years, both supporting others and performing herself. We all know the generosity, kindness, and the brightness of her spirit, and these qualities are reflected in the poems.
There’s a lot of winter in here, a late flowering, or an early one, as in plum blossoms in mid-winter, “like a wistful halo in late January moons.” Kimes is a keen observer of the passing of the seasons. She pays attention to what happens in her urban neighborhood (Capitol Hill, Seattle) and records it all meticulously. Further beyond her cityscape of flowers and many kinds of birds, horses make frequent appearances. In “Recipe: Take horses: Add one Russian Poet,” she quotes Mayakowsky, “We’re each a bit horse. /Everyone’s a horse in his way.” Other poems evoke the horses’ almost transcendent beauty and deeply wise eyes, “great round eyes, / they enter me, they saddle & ride me.” And wolves; the beauty and spirit of wolves appear in these poems as well.
The poems range from memories of her West Texas childhood, her mother and father, the dry Texas plains and the oilfields, to the rest of her life. She sets the tone in the first poem, “Flotsam.”
I sort through debris: a site worker sifting, sifting,
seeking what won’t be screened, what refuses
to dissolve, pausing to unswallow some of what is,
what once was—those mesquite, live-oak horizons…
And a life unfolds from there. A marriage failed, a grown child has disappeared without trace, the grief and questions of that. Another grown child, and the pleasure of grandchildren appear. All of our children wound us (as we, no doubt, wound them) and Kimes explores the wounds like a tongue exploring the space left from an absent tooth, with the full value of the loss and the expectation—at least the possibility—of the healing. Contemplating his disappearance, probably by train, she says,
I know movement vents sorrow.
holding on to my own rails,
I yearn to pertain,
to hear the morning’s story—
lost from the pod
a whale adopts a boat.
But the lost son does not return, at least not in these poems, “grief spills over every altar,” and later, “We’re designed for breaking.” But the poems go on, always with the metaphors of nature and animals, Kimes trying to learn from the natural world something about our human experience.
These poems are written in free verse but full of internal rhyme (a spider’s web seems to spread) and attention to sound within the play of vowels and consonants. And then there are poems of righteous anger at the world and its cruelties: this is a poet who pays attention to what is happening, as in “As Long As There Be Dust,”
the supreme indifference of the universe
to us, our choices—
The horrors of the world and its wars, starvation, and cruelty are here. She’s paying attention and is aware of our precarious state. In “South Lebanon Sea-Turtle Sonnet” she tells of the endangered Green Sea Turtles and the dangerous and difficult journey of the baby turtles to reach the relative safety of the sea from their inland hatching ground. Two women who run a B&B tell her of the arduous journey and of protecting the babies from predators on the beach and she thinks of our own endangered species:
Green Sea Turtles will survive
in allah’s arms, leaving rockets
and assassins behind. maybe/maybe we
can absorb love-of-life from turtles
& women guarding beaches, making beds,
Kimes’ poems and thought are in conversation with others who comment— Joan Didion, Eavan Boland, Linda Wertheimer and Nina Totenberg, all of whom end up in these poems. In one poem, “Lamentations,” she quotes Susan Sontag, summarizing her work, “all my work/ says be serious, be passionate, wake up?” We could say the same about Marion Kimes’ poems.