Rick's Reviews > The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe
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's review
Apr 27, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: poetry
Read in April, 2008

The cover of Howe’s third collection of poems is decorated with a watercolor by her daughter Grace Yi-Nan Howe and one Alex Ross. The painting has a fried egg of a sun shining over a landscape of green, purple, brown and red triangles and squares, with what look like letter T’s and I’s providing fences and trees, and maybe a couple of A’s. It’s a pleasing, vibrant, child’s view landscape threatened by a fury of scrabbled colors, reds, brown, grey filling the painting’s right side like a storm. Mom was probably slightly more pleased over whichever part her daughter contributed but likely realized this was her collection’s cover when she thought, the kids are right, Life is like that. Something beautiful, something threatening. Howe’s collection is filled with poems of religious meaning (“The Star Market,” “Reading Ovid,” “Easter,” “Prayer,” two poems titled “Limbo,” a sequence called “Poem from the Life of Mary,” and “Snow Storm”). It also filled with poems of mortality, her own, aging past 50, and her mother’s, whose death is captured powerfully in “My Mother’s Body,” which ends “Bless this body she made, my long legs, her long arms and fingers / our voice in my throat speaking to you now.” And in “In the Course of the Last Three Days,” which ends “One of us touched her foot / One of us touched her shoulder / One of us tried to pull off her rings. / One of us tried to close her mouth by placing one hand on her head / and another hand under her chin, but her mouth wouldn’t close.” Finally, it is filled with poems where the domestic world, the religious world, and the shadowed world of violence that reaches us via the news media overlap like a venn diagram. Because it is a slim collection, less than forty poems, less than seventy pages, the poems, like “How You Can’t Move Moonlight” demonstrates, marry worlds of wonder and woe:
“How you can’t move moonlight—you have to go
there and stand in it. How you can’t coax it
from your bed to come and shine there. You can’t
carry it in a bucket or cup it in
your hands to drink. Wind won’t

blow it. A bird flying through it won’t
tear it. How you can’t sell it or buy it
or save it or earn it or own it, erase
it or block it from shining on the mule’s
bristly back, dog’s snout, duck bill, cricket, toad.
Shallow underwater stones gleam underwater.

And the man who’s just broken the neck
of his child? He’s standing by the window
moonlight shining on his face and throat.”
This collection is Marie Howe’s finest work, moving, questioning, real, and soulful.
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