Tuesday, September 29, 2020


By Linda Parsons
Iris Press, 2019
ISBN 9781604542578
91 pages

Review of Candescent
by Rosemary Royston

Candescent by Linda Parsons is a collection of poems that succeeds in what its title denotes: to glow from within. Is it not a great achievement in this life to shine from our core, amidst the travails and tragedies that life brings? In these poems, the speaker documents her wrestling matches with grief, from watching her father fade away, the pain of  broken marriages, to the tedious yet natural act of aging. Within her collection, where there exists a healthy mix of Judeo, Islamic, and Christian imagery and practices, Parsons poems show both the sweat and the gain that discipline offers, allowing the speaker to be present in life through all its moments. Furthermore, Parsons masters sound, diction, and imagery throughout these poems; it is evident that she has practiced and honed her own craft.

The first section opens with “Smudge” where the speaker lights “…sage bound with thread from my grandmother’s / sewing box. Smoke rise, melt of burden, bellows nearest my heart, my length, woodsy / sweet.” The speaker walks through her home cleansing the “odd things he left behind…” The “he” being her partner of over twenty years, with the final image capturing the solitude and sudden singleness of the speaker,


As for me, I’ll root in my little Eden,

                        a bowl of ashes to catch the new moon,

                        crow feather on the sill, the remains

                        flapping off, mateless.

 Yet our speaker is not totally alone. She has a good shepherd in the poem of the same name. In “The Good Shepherd”(and several other poems) Parsons captures the grace of having a loving canine in one’s life. Her “good shepherd” shadows her from “counter to couch, / Naomi to my Ruth, wither going or staying / in the barley fields, finally the shelter of Boaz.” It is in the fur of this “last man of the house” where the speaker buries her face in grief, and it is with this loving animal that she finds comfort, “Eyes ghosted, nose works the air // of what dims but blooms still, keeper / from whence cometh my help.” The comparison of “Naomi to my Ruth” will be familiar to any reader that has been raised in the Christian tradition, and the solace this animal provides is revered through the diction in this poem; this good shepherd is a faithful servant, a gift from the Divine.

Family, whether it is a father, granddaughters, or former husband, all make appearances in the collection. The speaker has reached that point in life where enough time has passed to welcome back a first husband as in “Confluence. ” The poem opens with the metaphor of two rivers joining -- the Clinch and the tributary Powell, just as this once estranged couple now shares a meal, “the rope less taut between us -- / knot by knot, he mends memory’s seine” with the layered meaning of seine performing much work in such a small space, as Parsons does throughout the collection.

As opposed to dodging grief (which is often our first reflex), the speaker in Candescent turns towards her grief, absorbs it, and reckons with it. In “The Only Way,” with an epigraph from Rumi, “There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” the speaker “[Honors her] grief with ragged breath and privation / in the body’s dark cell despite how the blithe / word cries enough.” The assonance of “despite” and “blithe” force the reader to semi-howl, slowing the line and making us pay attention. And the redemption is that the speaker’s practice pays off, both literally and metaphorically. In the final poem of the opening section, “The First Night Pain Doesn’t Wake Me” the speaker notes the ongoing “ache in [her] hip” is suddenly gone not due to only the “ice, yoga’s cat and child, / tai chi’s white stork…” but because


…I scraped my bowl

empty of longing, until I sat in the dust

busking my tarnished tune and bowed

in gratitude for ache, for moan, for loss

at the hot marrow…”

 “The First Night Pain Doesn’t Wake Me” is a prayer with its musical sounds and deep gratitude for staying with the pain, “until I invited the hours to the side porch / for oranges and ginger tea, no longer / friendless and warring.”

In section two of the collection we find the speaker on her own “Damascus Road” where she is lost in thought “thinking of / Judy Blue Eyes,” and jolted back to the moment after reading her neighbor’s written complaint about the speaker’s “burning bushes” that block her view to the road. After all, it is a life and death issue, as her neighbor has almost been “T-boned three times.” The speaker, “swaddled in grief and remorse” has neglected the burning bushes, allowing them to grow too big and block the road. It is in this poem where she compares herself to Saul turned Paul, “…who am I but my own weary / traveler transformed, blasted new into traffic // without looking both ways?”

Just because the speaker finds her way through the pain does not mean that life is free of suffering. In “Enough” we watch as the good shepherd, “the dying dog” brings the estranged couple back together for the beloved dog’s final breath,

                         …our redemption impossible


                        on the flowered rug, his bag of bones

                        flown or sunken wherever the spirit lights –


                        even that of a dog is holy, my crook

                        and shepherd unto the psalmed hills.

Again, Parsons’ use of diction conjures the holy, regardless of religious tradition, forcing the reader to see the Divine in all aspects of life.

 In section three, the practice of meditation is artfully joined with place in “The Art of Meditation in Tennessee,” where we learn that “Ah invites the Divine, om gives thanks / to the Divine.” Whether these terms are familiar to the reader or not, any reader from the South will recognize these sounds and images, “Heat bugs deafen the understory, blacksnake / twines in honeysuckle, crawdad pinches / till it thunders / leeches suckle shin, river / mourns and bleeds…” The practice of breathing in and out, of the “om and ah,” leads the speaker to the knowledge, “..In the end, all is left, all Divine. / Breathe in peace, breathe out joy” – which is impossible not to do with the music and images that Parsons provides us in her poems.

The ability to breathe, to be present, also allows for joy to flow, and the love the speaker has for her granddaughters spills forth in the playful diction and rhyme within “I Love You Like a Dragon,” I love you:


…In mountain’s toes


that scoop earth’s foes, scales raging blustery

skies slice down to burning questions---chocolate


or apple pie? In hot breath, crafty yellow eye,

I set the meatiest afire. I love you bold and bolder…

The passion of “I Love you Like a Dragon” leads into one of my favorite poems in this collection, which is more or less a manifesto, “Stand Up.” It is here where the speaker reckons with her former, docile self who was a “walker on eggshells, the biter of lips, the please pleaser,” who turns into a woman who is neither silent nor meek, who

                         …sings without

                        pause, the unturned cheek, the unshut eye,

                        who digs her heels in this wide-awake

                        moment and lets the mother tongue fly.

 “Stand Up” is a poem that every woman should read aloud and often, with gusto. For it is in this poem when the speaker fully comes alive into her Self – the Self that is referenced in “Oracle,” where the enjambed line joins the first and second stanza of the poem, “Though nothing is fair in the dream of life, // our waking akin to a dream, said the Buddha, acceptance of what is, our only magick wand.”

The closing poem in the final section, “With Me” encapsulates the collection. While we opened to the speaker cleansing her house with sage, this final poem has the speaker carefully building “the home of myself,” acknowledging “bones of contention,” and the “entre chien et loup,” or time of the day “between dog and wolf, world and otherworld, my dusk,” – the time of life which the speaker now inhabits. She has witnessed and felt the loss of relationships, the loss of her father, of her good shepherd of a dog, but simultaneously knows the gift of discipline, the joy of granddaughters and the sounds and beauty of the South, and her upcoming “last ecstasy” will pass “into blessing, into hard surrender.”

These poems invite the reader to return to them, just as one turns to her most comforting scripture or to the daily practice of meditation or yoga. Layered with imagery and allusions, deft diction, and a love of sound, this is a collection I will keep close to my bed; a bedrock for when things do not go my way, but instead a reminder to embrace “acceptance of what is, our only magick wand.”

Rosemary Royston, author of Splitting the Soil (Finishing Line Press, 2014), resides in northeast Georgia with her family. Her poetry has been published in journals such as Split Rock Review, Southern Poetry Review, Appalachian Heritage, Poetry South, KUDZU, NANO Fiction, and *82 Review. She’s an Assistant Professor of English at Young Harris College.   https://theluxuryoftrees.wordpress.com/