This month for Poetry 365 we’re highlighting the remarkable debut collection from poet Eleanor Chai. In Standing Water, Chai takes readers to a small Paris museum where she encounters a bust of Japaneses dancer Little Hanako by sculptor Auguste Rodin that triggers painfully complex memories of the mother erased from the poet’s life since her childhood. Described by Mark Strand as “a masterpiece,” Colm Toibin declared, “The last poems of the book are outstanding, chiseled and perfect, line by line by line. Standing Water is a great achievement.” So don’t miss this hauntingly honest debut, sample the opening poem below, and make sure to stop back next month for Poetry 365.
This is her descending
in a hidden photograph
taken when I was
an infant and Mother held me
at arm’s length. I look back
for her, unsurprised
still questioning why she doesn’t return
my gaze. Her eyes
fix a spot between
her face and my face. For the infant
there is no distinction.
Her disaffection stains the intimate
objects found years later
among her things of everyday:
a thimble embroidered with a single petal.
A slim gold watch–stopped.
Brushes held to
dry in a bamboo roll. A tiny lime
and fuchsia dress sewn by her
hands for my hundredth day.
His wedding band, scarred
a muted gray. In the gap between us
a vacancy swells and bellies
the air where her eyes avert mine
to slide off where? I wish I could see her
engage and ignite
these traces of the ordinary,
the minutely particular
totems of our daily life: holy.
In an old dream, I plot a little boy’s flight.
Like a fighter pilot, I drop
a homing device back in time to spy
into the landscape of my infancy
before she turned her face away–
before my need was extraordinary.