Michele Wolf, Immersion. The Word Works,
(Note that a selection of poems from Immersion appeared in Innisfree 14: http://authormark.com/artman2/publish/Innisfree14MICHELE_WOLF.shtml)
Michele Wolf's latest collection, Immersion, is an exploration of the definition of family. These graceful poems consider the connections we have
with each other through romantic love, adoption, illness, and death, and
examine the relationships forged by blood, culture, chance, and choice, with
deft and elegant imagery and form.
begins, appropriately enough, with a love poem, "The Great Tsunami."
Not only does it establish the speaker's connection to the East, it begins
where family begins, when two people fall in love: "The wave is flooding
his heart, / And he is sending the flood / Her way. It rushes / Over her."
We revisit this in other poems throughout, including "Late Bloomer"
and "Tropical Drink," in which the two lovers "never drifted
far, tethered by the length of your arm, / Of mine, by the buoy of our two
hands joined. / And we knew we had tasted something sweet."
moves on to the story of the adoption of a little girl from China. In the title
poem, the speaker describes the melding of two cultures as she learns to speak
Chinese with other adoptive parents, then welcomes her daughter in a ceremony
at her synagogue. These are, of course, only the outer wrappings of family, as
the speaker soon realizes:
on the words. That's why, in the post office just a few weeks
had brought you home, the Asian American clerk,
sixties, spotted you soaking up your new world
your stroller, puckered up her face, then gazed again at me
with accented English, clenching my heart in her hands,
"She's yours?" I managed to answer, "Yes. And I'm hers."
she see I had become Chinese?
Wolf also explores how becoming a parent transforms one's
own relationship with one's mother and father. In Wolf's case, this means
revisiting her own father's early death in poems like "Pocono Lakeside" and "Why I
Became a Journalist," and her mother's grief at the death of her daughter,
Wolf's sister, in "The Grieving Room":
on a stiff chair
in a chamber inside her heart
one can enter.
curtains are drawn.
stuffy with a heavy
darkness, a room
shadows. She is
The interconnectedness the speaker feels extends beyond
her own family into the larger world. In deeply personal poems such as "Small
Talk with an Eight-Year-Old," "Skin," "Cherry Blossom
Festival," and "Chinese New Year, USA," and in poems with a
wider lens, such as "Attempting to Fly" and "Red Cloud,"
Wolf emphasizes the correspondence between cultures: we can recognize ourselves
everywhere if we only take the time to look.
One of the striking things about this collection is the
ordering of the poems. Each poem is carefully placed to illuminate the ones
before and after and to keep the narrative moving; the result is a brilliant
interlocking of stories and images that is greater than the sum of its parts
(which is not to disparage the excellence of those parts). Sometimes
collections can feel like just that: just collections of individual pieces. Immersion's careful arrangement creates
a larger whole, as beautiful and complicated as a Roman mosaic.
Laura Orem is a poet, essayist, and artist living in Red
Lion PA. She holds an MFA from Bennington and teaches writing at Goucher
College. She is a featured writer for The Best American Poetry Blog and
is a senior editor for Toad Hall Press. Her poetry can be found in many
journals, including recently in The Dos Passos Review and OCHO.