If a Storm by Anna Ross
Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (2012)
A masterfully written collection that reads with growing psychological complexity, If a Storm is a crescendo of poetry. Anna Ross is a strong poet of eye and ear. Her close investigation of the nature of motherhood and the motherhood of nature are compelling. Assured and unrelenting, these poems build into a singular voice that continues to echo long after the final poem. --Julianna Baggott (judge, 2012 Anhinga Prize for Poetry)
Calmly exact, without being at all fussy or guarded, Anna Ross's poems possess a subtle watchfulness (and a strange sense of being watched in return -- by the world and its creaturely life!). One hears in their music a responsiveness and empathy that is unusual these days -- their tone a tender gravity that is restorative and true. A music that signals real care for how and where we live. -- David Rivard
Lyric poetry attends to the life that goes unrecorded underneath the world's visible stories. Anna Ross's If a Storm does so with a combination of searching description (chiefly of the natural world) and a deceptive nonchalance. Ross's innovation is that she knows that such attention of mind and body now exists in the world as an anxiety, an "underneath": a privacy of thought that has become, for so many real and imagined reasons, anxiously secret. From intimate confessions of the failure of judgment, especially in the face of loss ("Instinct or pattern will blind us") to a sonnet sequence whose incantatory last poem gives the collection its nervous title ("Flight"), to moving accounts of pregnancy, travel, and other transitional states of being, If a Storm turns this tense and shareable intuition into a rich investigation of the world. -- Katie Peterson
We come upon it --
the blown ribcage up-ended,
picked white as crocus tips in the long grass,
coil of vertebrae extended, skull nosing
the green suggestion of water
in the run-off ditch the elk was drinking from
when it fell. We can see our house
from here, over the last rise,
its collection of rocks and worry,
and beyond that, weather coming east,
skinning the gray jaw-lines of ridges.
Do we find these things -- skull, roof,
the old ranch track down the ravine --
or are they in us like salt and nerve?
When we turn back
there is a grouse on the path,
a frenzy of dust and wing-beat
teasing us on as her four chicks start up
out of the brake to our left, hang uncertain,
then veer away.
At 9 o'clock, the evening flights from JFK take off --
red eye to the Coast or overnight
to London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Madrid.
We see them from our bedroom window,
landing lights blinking as they ascend
toward clouds made momentarily
solid in their glow, and one that lifts
among them but never leaves -- Venus
circling the runway. And here we are,
hard up against it once more.
By this I mean the body:
your arm across me, weighted with sleep,
already loosening its grip,
my shoulder parting us
like a ghost among the sheets. We've left
the curtains open to these nightly departures,
their thin jet whine a conch against the ear,
here in our dimming room.
Among red weeds off the Outer Banks,
I've sighted you --
your curl and call centering
in the low pressure of a Bermuda hour.
All the door frames list,
bewildered by trajectory,
and the bilge and batter
of your many scythes.
Careful, fledgling, the radar's up,
and the six o'clock news
just gave you a Christian name.
I've been wishing you so long
with my kerosene lamp,
each windowpane marking the spot --
have you had your fill already?
All this livid fall you've taught
the tidal islands to revolve,
as you bawl inland, inland.