Traci Brimhall’s second collection, Our Lady of the Ruins, brings forth the voices of a community of women who are charged with the task of rebuilding a world after half the world ends and the other half continues/in a city made holy by pilgrims who wander to it. This is the task the speakers in this collection set out to accomplish: to be the pilgrims that redefine, discover and usher holiness back into the world. Like Brimhall’s first book of poems, Rookery, the voice driving this second collection never waivers, regardless of the uncertainty, pain, and loss that comes from tasks as arduous as mythmaking and world building. The women in this collection are forces of nature, capable of devour[ing] old gods and steal[ing] hours from the future and burn[ing] all the books so history begins with [them]. In each of these poems, they promise each other the difficult work of love, and as a community approach all temptations, trials, and losses as a united force, teaching one another direction and keeping the past with all of its myths and traditions alive for each other. These narrators both plead to God and deny God in their journey to reclaim the past that was taken from them. We know the journey to God is a fatal one./ It isn’t even God we’re looking for./ We want to ride the horse of the past backward/through time to first wounds, laughter and milk,/but instead we drink from the beginning of rivers. Indeed, so many of the poems in this collection address the downfalls on their journey to God—the suffering that comes from temptation and madness, the limitations of the body, and lost belief and love. Brimhall writes in “Come Trembling”:
Rumors say the secret of life is sewn
into a dead man’s coat, but when we unearth him,
all we find in his sleeves are his fractured arms.
We want to believe, to split open the myth,
and lie in it, return to the original dark and be changed,
but the bones won’t yield to us, pages are missing
from the book, the gods remain so quiet,
we hear water speaking between the stones.
But even where there is doubt and helplessness, this collection is still radiant with determination, hope, and faith in a new world as each poem proffers new myths celebrating the importance of community and the journeying body’s connection to the past.