Beside the Well



Order now from Amazon


Donna Emerson sees beyond looking, to the currents below the surface of the most ordinary subjects, and, conversely, finds the simple truths in big life events, whether love, death, or the melancholy ache of loss. Her poetry is like a stream that sometimes eddies or lingers, but always moves us surely and safely along the journey.

Truth weaves in and out of Emerson’s poetry like a bright thread, sometimes just a faint shimmer, but often a jolt of golden color, searing through the stories and making us gasp with wonder, such as when she evokes Ravel in a poem about the first rain after a painfully long drought. Or describes the fate of a ten-year old girl who dared to ride a scooter down a steep hill with disastrous results.

These poems give us a different lens to view both life’s major passages and small moments, such as describing her awareness as a pre-teen that the first training bra might be a signal that hard times lie ahead. Or how grandmother, though “her eyes had gone out” – still understood what was true. Or how she overheard a mother telling a crying child they need to move because she wants her to “live in a house with at least one happy adult.”

Each poem feels like a tenderly executed portrait where the viewer can see beyond the canvas to the heart of the character inside, whether it’s a description of an 80-year old, blind, and naked client encountered during the gritty reality of a welfare check, or a farmworker baling hay who comments how no one is getting rich, but that “there’s just enough to go around.”

Emerson’s poems enchant, delight, and startle, but always create a space for us to see the wisdom and folly in our own lives through her clear and candid observations in her world. I keep wanting to quote my favorite passages from this collection, but they are far too many; I can only be grateful to her for (as she writes in a poem about Mary Cassatt) giving me back to myself. What better gift can there be?

- Review by Rita M. Gardner, author of: The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival (2014).