Many startling images weave through Amy Small-McKinney’s new book of poetry, Walking Toward Cranes. One of my favorites is “there is a turtle in my mouth…he will not be banished.”
Small-McKinney is creating a moving landscape that mirrors her struggle and journey with breast cancer and what comes after. Her images are stark but also personal: “I am beginning to remember my body/I will wake up tomorrow. I am not a leaf.” She moves from the intimate to the universal: “Inside a hollowed out body, what is left?” to “When I was a girl I used my hair as a kind of weapon.”
The poet is not afraid to reach beyond sentiment to unspeakable feelings, unknowable outcomes: “My real life hides in trees, beneath deep snow./If I open my door, the wind will divide me.”
The book is divided into three sections: Treatment, The Healing, and Walking Toward Cranes. In the poem “Inside the world” in the first section, she writes:
I may be wrong or misunderstand borders.
Every day my body is a different place.
In these poems, Small-McKinney is not afraid to open the door to her sadness, her pain. But she can ground herself enough to incorporate what she is losing:
I should lug the limbs felled from the storm,
whole trees at places,
pile them beside the road for pick up.
In the second section, The Healing, she begins to see a way back: “Home is not where I live,/it is sleeve of a daughter.” She describes the physical losses and heartache of having her body invaded by an unwelcome intruder: “For the couch, it is the shaved head,/hours of a body hanging on as though a raft”. But she is also not afraid to reveal the depth of her fear: “Well, she is afraid. Seductive fire,/articulate rain, all of this being alive.”
She grapples with the physicality of the body and her time taking in all the lessons that implies:
a bog can be destroyed.
Still, I am rainwater.
I love what is unexpected.
What falls from the sky, falls into me.
She lets herself imagine all directions, past, present, future:
When I was a little girl, night after night,
I imagined a funeral, a torn black ribbon
pinned to my blouse.
When the poet reaches the third section, Walking Toward Cranes, she begins to feel a future reappear and lets herself imagine in another way:
I want to travel, probably won’t.
I want to walk into a village where a woman weaves yarn,
squat beside her, not condescending,
not sentimental, but because I am lost.
Her honesty about her own feelings of loss pervade this book, but there is a curve of repair and coming back to the world with new insights:
I know there is another tree that sways
outside my new home, new window.
It tells me when the world is hard,
when it is forgiving.
This is a moving, beautiful book about walking through darkness and coming to light, without complaint. Small-McKinney has a clear vision kept focused on the real world and the world of endless possibilities.