Book Review: Original Face by Jim Peterson

Original Face by Jim Peterson book coverOriginal Face by Jim Peterson.
Gunpowder Press, 2015.

reviewed by Jenny Minniti-Shippey

In Jim Peterson’s latest poetry collection, confident storytelling links diverse voices—voices of lovers, fathers, queens of the circus and wide-eyed children.  The poems take us from “a neighborhood where boys // play war on the streets and women / draw hearts and stars in the palms of their hands” to the paintings of Francisco Goya, whose subjects’ “eyes see cleanly through me into God // knows what: insects singing in the woods / behind me perhaps.”  Through time and space, the poet’s attention travels, narrowing on the details of a beloved—“ whose languorous limbs are the map of my desire”—before widening to consider the natural world with lyricism and clarity: “the black of a beetle’s back / in a country where the trees still grow so tall.” Central to the collection’s work is the exploration of relationships, to finding and articulating connections between living creatures, whether it’s humans, animals, or the animate and breathing world around us.  Original Face surprises throughout with its confident, evocative phrasing, from “the days are no more dangerous than dogs” to “her mother dimension / high among the fluorescent lights,” in the moving poem “The Grip.”

In the long, central poem “Love Song of the Maintenance Engineer,” the controlled, measured narrative voice of the earlier poems in the collection gives way to a lyric crescendo of uncertainty and desire.

kiss me and I’ll dream for a thousand years
I’ll follow your breath the way it turns against my face
I’ll never speak of money or of cars with electric windows
I’ll never hold myself up to anyone’s light but yours
I’ll follow the sparrow’s call into the woods
I’ll listen to the wind in every kind of tree
in the river of our valley or night I’ll speak the first words
which cannot be planned or cancelled
you know the ones

Haunting, human, and rich with resonance, this poem plays with syntax and phrasing to create an intimate portrait of love and loss that, for this reader, stays in the mind long after the first reading.

another night another day another
gallery of glances among the sheets and windows
and no one not even you my love
can say what is happening
though you speak for a thousand years

The poems of this book ask, what drives us?  What makes us who we are, and what guides us to our truest selves?  While the poems do not offer simple answers, there runs through them the suggestion that the answer is in the connections we make with each other, and how we choose to honor those threads of obligation, love, and desire:

we lie down in the river
of deep currents, the cold
pouring over us, together swim, free

to find our own way home.

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