Reviewed by Cindy Snow
In her previous collection, She Heads into Wilderness, Macari blurred boundaries between nature and humans. In Red Deer, Macari accomplishes connection by shape-shifting through pronouns, moving through time periods, and redefining surfaces. This is a book about permeability.
In “Swimming Reindeer on Mammoth Tusk,” for example, Macari begins with “I,” an “I” that examines a carving: “I will never see how their bulk / presses the current, only / this carving two hands made.” By the poem’s end, the narrator is the reindeer: “My torso grows heavier, / how will I swim? / Who will be behind me? Where / is the muddy bank?” We, as readers, join the beasts, the bulky “swift lines” in water; we’re frantic with them, searching. Macari deftly moves us from observer to participant.
Macari acknowledges that when we as humans connect to the past, to living beings, we form bridges to ourselves. But “acknowledges” is too tame a word here. The author’s poems breathe life into that connection—bodily, spiritually. “The Horse Wall,” for example, opens with:
I ate stone, entered it, my hand
reaching to nudge the horse
through the wall, stroke it out, carving
horse eye and velvet ear, massaging
up and down muscled legs.
There’s so much intimacy. The membrane that separates is permeable, even if it consists of stone and thousands of years.
As we enter caves and see paintings, calcium, and fossils, Macari keeps us tethered to life, and away from the predictable. Here in the poem, “Rock Flesh,” for example:
the porous limestone leaks
its eggshell glaze
like some bird
birthing, without sun
or wind, but in a cavernous
womb, crystal growing
its calculated pace.
In the book’s notes, Macari writes, “Many of these poems were written in response to caves I visited in Belize, France, and Spain.” Early in the collection, in “Under Skin,” the author reveals how close she is to the images: “how / I’ve taken your image inside me, / with all my tenderness I keep you– / little horse, little deer.” Near the end of the book, in “After the Caves,” Macari has moved from tender keeping to something more complicated: “I want to lean / backwards at the cave’s threshold / where the cool opening meets / the sun’s heat, called / in both directions.” This narrator wants to be in multiple places at once, with all beings at once, with the self. This is the axis on which she lives, and her process is one of re-membering.
Red Deer is populated with bones and dreams, talk and longing. I read it and felt invited into an earthy, millennia-old conversation. Macari takes us on “a trail down / into charcoal and charged dust // through splinters and shards.” She wants us to see, wants too the wholeness that comes with connection: “Talk to me,” she writes (in “It Says”), “that’s / all the body wants, all it ever says.”
Cindy Snow’s writing has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Peace Review, Worcester Review, and elsewhere. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart, and Slate Roof Press will soon publish her first chapbook. Cindy lives in western Massachusetts and works at Greenfield Community College.