Antonia's Reviews > Nothing to You

Nothing to You by Suzanne Roberts
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's review
Mar 17, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: read-in-2012
Read in March, 2012

I really enjoyed this collection of poems, which was published in 2008. Roberts has a previous collection, Shameless, and a later one, Three Hours to Burn a Body. She's an extremely talented woman, who is also an accomplished travel writer. (In 2008, she was named The Next Great Travel Writer by National Geographic Traveler.) Her travels furnish exotic locations and vivid imagery for her poetry, too. Roberts is also a photographer and it shows. She seems to miss nothing. Most of these poems are colorful and packed with concrete details. They are all so easy to enter and find one's way around in.

The book is divided into two sections "The Loneliest Highway" and "Things in Order." All of the poems in the first section are headed with a particular setting, most of which are in Mexico or Central America (Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua), though some are set in the U.S. (Nevada, Wyoming).

Each poem paints a scene or tells a story and sometimes the narrator enters only briefly, perhaps at the end, in such a way that you realize that she's been there all along, that she has her own story and it intersects with the one you've been observing. You end up feeling as though you've walked these streets in the company of an intelligent and observant guide.

From "Textiles."

She kneels on the cracked earth,
braids fabric—red and black
figures on green—shapes
of flowers and birds. She weaves
in blue, yellow, Calloused fingers
recreate sky—the moon and sun.
At five she sold her first huipil.
Her toes bent beneath her,
the balls of her feet white
like garlic bulbs. A baby sleeps. . . .

From "Something Else"

The tide unrolls a curtain
on sand—surging and retreating
like memory, leaving behind
conch shells, beautiful corpses,
pink and temporal.

The poems are sensual — often in content, as well as image. But there's more: a dramatic tension arising from the disparity between the narrator's life and those she observes and touches only briefly. There's a keen awareness, a hint of guilt, a wistfulness.

From "Nothing to You"

Rose spray and fish linger
in the hotel. Korean tourists smoke
cigarette after cigarette, drink
Cuba Libres in the lobby.
The taxi driver told me
if I stay here, they'd give him
a cut—Para mis hijos—
for my children, 25 dollars
American, he said.
Nothing to you. . . .

From "The Ferry"

[N watches a young mother and her infant]
She holds out her own hand,
spreads the fingers, compares
it to the tiny hand reaching for her.
She looks from the hand down
to my feet, the red polished toenails,
and up to my face. I know
I should look away now, but I don't.

From "The Remembering Sky"

I hide / in evening shadows, ambiguous and gray.

My answer falls into the impossible space, hidden between
green landscapes and yellow stars of light.

This section contains three good sestinas. A surprise. I was pretty far into one before I realized the form — and then only because it occurred to me that she'd used the word "possibility" perhaps one or two too many times. They're good, though, and play with the form a bit -- for instance, one of the repeating words is maybe (or may be), which in one stanza is quizás.

The second section, "Things in Order," contains some poems on the last illness and death of N's father ("Back at home, Mother put Daddy on the shelf between Dante and Shirley MacLaine.") and some others, including a September 11 poem.

From this section, here's one I like a lot:

Clothes But Not the Body

I know the words he used—Kiddo for me,
Darling for Mother—but not the voice.

The handwriting, pointed like a crow's beak, loops
in all the wrong places, but not the hands.

The clothes—nubby red cardigan, sagging blue jeans,
the worn canvas shoes, but not the shoulders, not the limbs.

Canadian Club, Winstons, Head and Shoulders, Old Spice,
but not the smell of skin, of hair.

The food—borscht, mint chip ice cream, Doritos—
never my favorites, still I eat and eat and eat.

Here are three poems. The first two are from this collection, Nothing to You.

I'm delighted to have discovered this talented writer!

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