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The Good Thief by Marie Howe
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Jan 11, 2008

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bookshelves: poetry
Read in March, 2007

Marie Howe's first collection is short, very tight in it composition, almost abstract in its treatment of themes of identity, family, religion, and nature and quite good. Lines like “At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless” (What the Angels Left), “No matter how many times I try I can’t stop my father / from walking into my sister’s room” (How Many Times), and “My brother already wears / his nervous look” (Apology) abound and give a sense of foreboding. “Veteran’s Day” seems a metaphoric treatment of war, three golden boys scale a tower with skill and daring only to leap from the top to their deaths: “they leap, each of them, or fly, in almost / perfect swan dives, and fall / like stones, or like boys // with the thud of sure premonition to the eventual / pavement, buckling and man-made, that has been waiting / all this time, for them, with a deep and perfect gravity.” Other than the title there is nothing to signify war in the building climb or the sudden jump down to their deaths. “Isaac” tells the familiar story of Abraham’s willing sacrifice at God’s command from the boy’s point of view. He doesn’t hear his father’s conversation with God, only first the sudden command to lie down and later the command to rise and go get a ram. “I only remember the clouds rushing across the sky / like horses // and the blood pounding inside me like water / and pushing, stumbling // down the mountain to the far pasture / to the ram that was my favorite // and weeping into its filthy matted wool, / crying out.”
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