Reading In The Bird’s Breath by Marcia Roberts is like struggling for air, in a way that is almost too relaxed for comfort...as if we might welcome our empty lungs with relief. It would be a sort of freedom. The poems are erratically and spiritually charged but the energy is not wasted on heavy-handed metaphors or romantic, idealistic language. Rather, these pieces are gritty and cold and achingly familiar because their (often) political subject matter is raw, if not rare and the alarming regularity of discarded resources (read ordinary citizens, people) has lost its shock value. Between the covers, saddle-stitched and soft bound, is a calmly executed assembly of haggard wisdom, blatant grief, and a patient sort of passion for truth.
The very first page warns against deception, “time to remove lace and collar and lies,” favoring instead an honest relationship with image and sound…but so many things are dying. Heedless. Destruction reigns king and his name is God? We are assured, as readers, not to worry but as people and animals and insects die around us, who can we trust? “This is the end of the innocence” we are told again and again, and we can most undoubtedly trust that—there is no place for the guiltless between the pages of this collection; even abandoned children have to prove themselves. “The beat of sadness is staccato” and so the language of the poems go, clipped and disjointed yet somehow united by an understated sorrow.
“I write in blue,” we are told, and it isn’t hard to believe. However, there is more to these poems than a permeating gloom. While the shallow, anxious breaths of the sequence are little poems heavy with earthly lament and surrounded by ghosts—“Has it breathed in your spirit — one flick of ash?”—each page gasps and struggles for air, searching for a connection with someone, anyone, who can understand why, in this world, faces melt, birds die, and holy water and venom are worth more than people (ordinary citizens) who live with death butted against their domestic chores and challenges. Why are so many things dying? But these poems do not ask for pity; the voice is unforgiving and the images unapologetic—images of war, of religion, and most startlingly of desperation. Desperate for what? That is for you to decide. “Perhaps it’s some parallel to you.”
First published on Haggard & Halloo.