The River will save us by: Linda Simone
(Kelsay Books, Aldrich Press, 2018) ISBN: 9781949229073
reviewed by: Tina Tocco
Home. What is it? Where is it? Is it rooted or fluid? These are some of the questions tackled by Linda Simone’s third poetry collection The River Will Save Us, an assembly of poems that is as intimate as it is welcoming. Whether you live only blocks from your birthplace or have carted boxes far and wide, Simone’s poems will touch that place called home.
Simone’s collection tracks all aspects of relocation and journeys — the joy of new opportunities, the possessions left behind, the dreams realized, the loss in displacement. The book’s first section, Postcards from a Past Life, focuses on her own voyages and that of her family’s, both from place to place and through life’s various points. Sometimes wistful, such as when recalling her departed mother in “Family Photo, 1981” (“Her smile spreads like good news. She holds/my son in his Crayola colors.”), other times more practical in “Turning in My License” (“Give it back, I want to shout./It’s where I’m from, who I am!”), Simone consistently hits on those life changes that make and transform us. Her choice of details, always brilliantly simple, allows her to give richness to something as all-encompassing as the universe or as seemingly mundane as heading to the bus stop.
In “Migration,” for example, the author recounts the culture shock of moving with her husband to Manhattan from their longtime home in the New York suburbs:
Awakening to dusk we behold
not finch-filled willows
but pinnacles lighted golden,
holy as church spires.
She later discovers the symbolism in urban nature, a juxtaposition that would likely escape most of us:
Today, on the way to Grand Central
a starling sings from his niche —
straw and trash jammed in a Starbucks sign,
resilience his tune.
Some of the finest work in these pages stems from Simone’s more recently settled roots in Texas, where the author and her husband relocate to be near their son. Simone’s deep commitment to family breaks through again and again, such as in “My Son Moves to San Antonio,” where she declares:
and it might as well be Prague.
I can’t reach him by cheek,
call in a hug, or drop biscotti at his door.
One of my favorites, “First Texas Christmas,” is the epitome of simple details. They are so well chosen, they will take you back in time:
I unwrap balls treasured for decades
glittering pine cones
by our son’s small hands
my mother’s (last unbroken)
ornament of glass
Though the author begins with familial journeys and recollections, she broadens the book’s scope by crafting poems inspired by the Jingu family, Japanese immigrants and their children whose happy, successful lives in San Antonio are altered by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Their section casts a different outlook on American life and relocation.
“Teahouse of the Texas Moon,” the poem for which this section is named, gives a mother’s perspective on Japanese internment, her thoughts addressed to the moon hanging over her adopted home of San Antonio:
My eight young
who yesterday splashed among lily pads
long for their artist father
as if five years passed in five nights.
Beneath your piercing eye, I lie:
We will be all right.
We also share in a photograph of a more happily expectant time in “Footing,” when the family begins their San Antonio experience:
So much sepia-hued hope
in the photo.
Proud papa, clad in shirt and tie,
arms drape across slight
shoulders of two young sons.
only to end with an oddly prophetic hint:
Beneath his right heel
you see the foundation
And even further back in “Approaching Angel Island,” a brief memory of nearing the West Coast immigration station where the Jingus were first accepted into the U.S., we experience the anticipation that parallels other immigrant cultures through a distinctly Japanese perspective:
I dream of palms, divine smiles
coalescence of miso and burgers
sticky rice and fries
matcha and milkshakes
soon to be mine.
Throughout this collection — and quite fitting, considering the book’s title — Simone masterfully intersperses poems about rivers, culminating in the final section Speaking with Rivers. Here, she uses not only water, but many interconnected aspects of nature to bring together her themes of home and change.
In “Walking the River’s Edge,” she observes:
Despite scarce water, spiny xerophytes
from another place thrive.
I, a transplant too,
like the prickly pear,
Inspired by Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” she joins her East Coast and newly formed Texas roots, bridging two cultures:
I’ve tread narrow wanderings of the Bronx River.
I’ve watched dawn make the Hudson blush.
Near Tom’s River under the brightest star
succumbed to sleep.
I’ve caught the San Antonio singing to me
An additional trait that distinguishes this collection is the haiku found throughout (a mini collection in itself) that serves as a subtle homage to the Jingu family. These charming surprises tucked at the bottom of various pages are just as powerful as their longer counterparts.
Linda Simone’s poems, even those that do not originate from her own history, are so personal that they read like tiny memoirs, yet they are perfectly accessible because they reach the same core we all share — that deep longing for home. Stay put one weekend, as I did, with The River Will Save Us. It will take you to places you have definitely been — and those you may reach someday.
The book can be ordered in support of small presses at https://kelsaybooks.com/products/the-river-will-save-us. It is also available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=linda+simone&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Alinda+simone.
The River Will Save Us is Pushcart-nominated poet Linda Simone’s debut full-length collection (Kelsay Books, 2018). Past publications include Archeology (2014), Cow Tippers (2006), and the children’s book, Moon: A Poem (2002), and poems and essays in numerous journals and anthologies. She earned her MAW from Manhattanville College in 2004 when she served as poetry editor for Inkwell. She proudly served as Associate Director of the MAW program from 2005 to 2009, focusing on building relationships with many local arts organizations and libraries where students could present their work. Since moving to San Antonio from New York in 2015, Simone’s poetry has been selected for city Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero’s signature project, and most recently has been included in San Antonio’s Thirty Poems for the Tricentennial: A Poetic Legacy. www.lindasimone.com