March 15, 2014

Magnifying Life’s Silences: A Review of Leigh Anne Hornfeldt's East Main Aviary by Mindy Kronenberg

cover credit: Flutter Press
East Main Aviary by Leigh Anne Hornfeldt
Flutter Press (2012)

Reviewed by Mindy Kronenberg

The narrative “tour” the reader experiences through both physical and emotional realms in East Main Aviary is by turns haunting and nostalgic, with poems that are intimate yet detached. The tensions and comfort of past, present, and future come together in the lead poem, “Driving Back We Pass My Parent’s Home,” where readers are told upfront: “This never means the same thing twice. / Tonight our children sleep in the back seat.” As the poem, like the car, moves forward, memories are roused: “Under that pinoak I crept, / kissed a boy in porchlight pallor… // By the juniper I snuck my first cigarette…” It is “too late for visit,” and Leigh Ann Hornfeldt has visions of her parents, separate and familiar in their unhappy spheres, even as she reaches for her husband’s hand, heading into “the familiar darkness ahead.”

Her first collection contains narratives with vivid, often musical language. “Flowering Plum” captures the ravages of unbridled growth and neglect with imagery and alliteration:
Your promised greens
plummet into deep purple,
you flood with color, clots
clinging on the white-molded boughs
which break to my touch …
Why should the caterpillars love you more
than this oak, uncrippled and not fraught?
In “As the Sparrows Fall,” the troubling discovery of a yard of dead birds leads to grief and panicked speculation.
How I worried that winter, wanted to know what
I’d done wrong to bring such plague
upon our yard: Were the feeders teeming
with bacteria, had the black oil sunflower seed gone bad?
Seasonal and emotional planes intersect in “Where Our Aprils Meet,” where a bird’s “needled cry / threads back and forth, stitches days together / like a hand-sewn quilt…” and there was “the old book smell of smoke and woods / in our hair.” The poet and a companion tend to flower beds (“heirloomed irises / and sprawling tiger lilies”) near a place where the natural world becomes entangled in human debris, but the force of life persists: “…we found the Killdeer’s nest in the vacant lot / of weeds and crushed beer cans, // behind the rusted wire fence and honeysuckle. / She feigned lame, flopped like a wrung chicken / to draw us away from her eggs…”

Sometimes Hornfeldt’s simplicity can be as startling as her more elaborate, descriptive language. There is an aching precision in how she conveys loss and longing, as in “Freshly Missing” in which a woman’s first son is described as a “murdered blur.” The event left her “…changed / a gaping hole scratched in the nest bottom / leaving her wringing hands in dumbness / leaving her tonguing suicide without tiring” until another son filled the hovering emptiness. In “Absence,” the poet shares the gap and murmur of her own experience:
Yours left me
exploring childhood
the way tongue
searches the hole
where once
there was baby
tooth, the way
tongue stumbles
blindly across
that gap,
of warm air
as the mouth mimes
Without being sentimental or self-indulgent, Hornfeldt deftly probes looming and impenetrable spaces of grief, longing, and love. There is eloquent precision in how she recreates quiet and disquieting moments of coming-of-age, flashes of mortality, and growing into the whole of oneself. East Main Aviary is an elegant, often wistful collection of memories, rites of passage, and revelatory moments that are poignant markers in a poet’s personal journey.

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