Mapping a Life
Poems by Susan T. Moss
44 Poems ~ 74 Pages
Format: 6’’ x 9’’ ~ Perfect Bound
Publisher: Antrim House Books
To Order: Amazon.com and at fine bookstores everywhere.
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
Finding one’s way around country sides and cities is relatively easy these days. GPS systems have made travel simple. From faraway galaxies, an exceptionally large eye surveys the universe. Then a soft feminine voice tells travelers which way to go. Before such genius became commonplace, I was forced to depend on the almost-universal eye of my wife. She was great with maps. Even if the map was wrong or out-of-date, she always got us to our destination. In her new collection, Mapping a Life, poet Susan T. Moss, loves maps. More importantly, Moss loves life and revels in the journey.
Readers get a clue from her epigram by Richard Jefferies (1848-1887), “Give me fullness of life like to the sea and the sun.” Jefferies, author of The Story of My Heart, possessed a delightfully curious mind. He loved nature and wrote and traveled extensively exalting in nature’s wonders. I sense that Moss dwells within Jefferies’ exuberant shadow. Like her spiritual mentor, she lives, writes and travels within the “fullness of sea and sun.”
Divided into four parts (without headings) readers discover life-themes grouped within each division. Part I sets the stage for experiencing nature’s wealth within the long stretch of time. The collection’s lead poem, “Mapping a Life,” offers a perspective:
Sometimes it’s like that: the kind
of journey when I walk
where deer prints mark a path
fringed with scallop-bottomed
mushrooms and speckled stones—
a microcosm of beauty and solitude
at each bend and in every breath
that reminds me I am not even
halfway to anywhere
with so much to examine, hold onto
before the urgency to repack
for life’s next destination, another place
to meet myself at the still point.
Moss’s clear-eyed observations about nature translate and apply to life. It has been said that the outer visible world of nature is analogous to the inner invisible world of human beings. Moss exploits this truth throughout Mapping.
The creations in this section, and throughout, employ luscious language. The poems invited me to join the steady march of time and memories. In “Swimming Freestyle with My Mother,” Moss recalls her mother’s pantry when the peaches were gone; she partakes of the fruit of her mother’s memories and her “sea” of wisdom.
In “Redwoods” her devotion to time is evident. Moss gets a glimpse of eternity “standing / among giants.” In this and other poems, “light” emerges as a significant theme. “Skyward,” avers, that “Even the tallest buildings / can’t hide shafts of light / seeking canyon floors / now mostly deserted.”
Poems such as “Along the Way,” and “Late August,” provide vibrant depictions of color and seasonal progression.
while watching for other changes—
the instant when all meet
at the juncture of past
and future as an infinitesimal
thread connects us
Part II bids us join Moss as intrepid travelers to Moscow, China, Africa, Spain, Japan and more. At each stop, the poet’s eye for detail and history inform her writing. Moss has done her homework. “Notes on Moscow,” reveals a study in contrasts and how oppressive governments behave when they are afraid of freedom:
citizens who start their day waiting
for the proclaimed existential threats
while we all sleep with one eye open.
“Nippon Memories” is a must-read, four-part gem that spans the decades from post WWII to contemporary times. It is a land much different now than when:
My father brought back other
mementos from Occupied Japan
like the cloisonné jars and lacquered
bowls, ivory netsukes and chopsticks
from Kyoto that filled a glass cabinet
in the living room.
On language and style, I would be remiss if did not note the precision of Moss’s verse. This is a mature poet. Her language is vivid and lush; her diction nicely paced. She has that special knack of choosing the right word that moves each poem forward.
Parts III and IV sustain the momentum established in parts I and II. Themes of time, light, and the beauty “of sea and sun,” come full circle to “Traveling Light”:
All the indispensable maps
and guidebooks have expired,
heavy luggage expelled
to a basement corner
with Grandmother’s trunks
from eighty years ago,
and I am left wondering
what might happen
if I were to travel
with only the shirt
on my back and nothing
to burden what’s left
of the journey.