Reviewed by Kathleen Berry
Meghan Sterling, in her debut collection, These Few Seeds, promises “I don’t have time for delicate things.” Like the seeds of her title, Sterling highlights with intense focus and rich language the ostensibly fragile: flowers, winter air, a child paying in dead grass, sheets of white paper tossed from a window, in order to uncover a deep reservoir of redemptive power. Sterling’s engagement with the natural world revels in language that is surprising, evocative and deeply personal, from Damascus jasmine “white like stars in the night after a bomb” to “the blues that carve/their crags into mountains.” Sterling’s poems take us from rural New England “The way the barn/cut the night in two, the hay steaming,/the chickens asleep in the roost.” to Greece where “we learned the plants like a new language” and rest in a small apartment with a new baby. In each location, Sterling delivers the unexpected, countertops which become gateways to ancestral villages, puddles that hold lifetimes. Sterling’s poems don’t shy away from the realities of catastrophic climate change, political inequality, broken relationships or parenting, but teach us, as in her poem “Cyclops” to love “the eye/that looked away, with one eye shaded by the raised fist” or, as in “Mincha,” “this light, this sun/however brief.”
As a Jew(ish) writer myself, I was deeply drawn to Sterling’s engagement with family and faith. First in a tryptic of poems that take as their inspiration daily Jewish prayers, next in the stunning “Jew(ish)” which traces a rich and complicated cultural history from the “weight of ornate silver, of long lives and sore feet,” to “when the clothes are cast out of closets in a hurry/as if the dead would come back for their pants/if they were left” in and out of “the warp and weft/of woven blue and gold where the weaving is tangled/in the back. And the sweet purple in the throat/of Manischewitz” finally engaging “the smoke like ghosts in the streets/that shame us into naming ourselves, outing ourselves,/to keep them from disappearing.” Sterling continues to explore this tension as she discovers, “the truth looks more like my grandmother’s face/every day I am alive” while later declaring in “Where We Can Be Wildflowers,” “Her village is not your village. That mud is not your mud.” This cycle of poems culminates for me in “Queens” where Sterling simultaneously honors and distances herself by proclaiming, “Remind me that I will be different./That I will speak because I am full of words.”
Rich in paradox, image and language, Sterling challenges us to rise “on this morning/still soft with the night that was just here.” love, “with the toughness of trees” and find “the courage of/birds and flowers.” These Few Seeds is a book for those seeking inspiration in darkness, for those seeking to love their wounds, and their wounded planet, differently.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 23, Issue 2.