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Other Possible Lives

October 18, 2019

Reading Chrissy Kolaya’s new volume of poems, Other Possible Lives, is like walking through a neighborhood at dusk and looking into the windows, imagining what it would be like to live behind those windows and think the thoughts that the owners of such drapes and furniture must think.

Because I’d enjoyed her previous volume, Any Anxious Body, I asked the author for a copy of this volume, and she obliged. If I hadn’t liked it as much as the first one, you wouldn’t be hearing about it; in fact, I liked it even more.

In “The House Sitters,” a couple is trying on someone else’s life by living in their house, but also trying out the idea of spending an entire lifetime together. My favorite stanza is the seventh:
“After the argument, she ducks out, tiptoes through the house of strangers where he sleeps with his back to her, hands to himself. So that the next morning, looking all over, he is, as he later tells her, distraught. And she pictures old women, inconsolable.”

Sometimes we get more than one perspective, like in “Camellias,” which begins with the point of view of someone who discovers a kindness:
“In the morning
we find the camellias
tucked in
against the frost,

against
what glitters in the sunshine,
over the barn roof,
on windshields, and
among dried leaves scattered
over the still-green lawn,

baby blankets
wrapped gently
around them.”

But then we see it from the point of view of the one who performed this kindness:
Yankees
Our elderly neighbor
shakes her head.
They won’t know:

the camellias
might live all winter,
protected against the frost.

She creeps over
under cover of dusk,
swaddling flannel crib blankets
around the bush, tucks in
ducks and bunnies,
Elizabeth’s favorite.
Remembers her daughter
dragging it through the kitchen,
sleepy mornings. Stars and moons
and clouds she swaddled her boys in,
And were they ever so tiny?”

“The Most Beautiful Word in the World” is a poem that lists words like “chrysalis” and “saboteur,” and about words like “saudade,” which is defined in the poem as “Portuguese for a type/of longing.” My favorite part, because in teaching English as a second language discussions it’s often called a “poetic” use of language, is this:
Dream dresses?
My Korean student struggles,
searching for the word—
nightgown.”

72573898_10218490734892724_786345831144882176_nAt a point in my life when I’ve been desperate for distance from my job (where I confront problems with teaching English as a second language) and from some of my neighbors (who yell support for our corrupt president out of their car windows at me every Saturday as I stand on the square with my sign about immigration or health care or climate change), these poems give me a new appreciation for imagining what it would be like to live in the houses and walk in the shoes of other people, and a new impetus to try doing that more often.

 

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