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Something Like a River
by Roberta Feins
29 poems /366pp/ $10.00
Moon Path Press

Reviewed by: Ed Bennett

American westward movement has been going on since the first settlers landed on the Atlantic coast in colonial times.
WH Auden saw this migration as the strong will of a people who did not merely stop at the Pacific Ocean but carried
themselves into the ocean itself with the great whaling and clipper fleets. No doubt, there is an almost magnetic
attraction on the American psyche by the deserts and mountains of the Western states.

Roberta Feins' book, Something Like a River, is a personal history in verse of one of the many who migrated from the
Atlantic Coast to the Pacific. The stark beauty of these poems comes from Ms. Fines’ deep understanding of the history
and geography of a particular place as well as the penetrating observation of places as they are now. She does not simply
see a mirror’s reflection; she sees each layer of time and space as if dissecting it under a microscope.

Ms. Feins declares her bona ides as an Easterner at several points in the book. She declares:

"We lived at the parkway's other end…
under the rumble
of the Jerome Woodlawn elevated line"

In the poem "Though I Live West, My Heart is East" she begins her westward journey with:

"Born on this coast, where the sun rises over ocean…

I moved West, where the sun sets over ocean"
In that journey she moves from Albany, New York to Ayalik Bay, Alaska, via Connecticut, Mt. Rainier, Kittitas County, the
Columbia River and various points in between. In each venue she looks deeply into the soul of the land drawing from each
common occurrence an image unique to that place. “Seasonal Memoir” descries a simple bird’s nest as:

“The finches have learned the lessons of a star.
Love alone – the slow deliberate twining
of grass into nest lined with thistledown
and strands of tabby hair”

Each small detail is correlated to the cosmos itself, implying a unity of nature yet maintaining the uniqueness of the
finch’s labor. each tabby’s hair.

Ms. Fein’s background in Biology as she uses scientific metaphor in “Town Park”

is just a mechanical unfolding
of helix and molecule, enzyme and sugar.
Still, in this plum, I bring autumn
and mature to my mouth. I suck these words
like a pit beneath my tongue.”

In this instance, the sweet taste of a plum is traced from the specific act of taste to the act of ripening by way of the
very biochemistry that defines it. The movement from the subjective act of taste o seeing is universalized and joined to the
all encompassing existence that we all share. Dong this once is fine imagery. Doing it several times, as Ms. Feins does, is
the touch of a master.

Time is fluid in her poetry yet it moves in a logical progression as the poem develops. In the eponymous “Something Like a
River” she begins with a third grade class photo. As each student is identified they are seen in the present

"Jerry evaporates from a beer glass,
only a foamy trace left on the rim…

Ellen's children know her as pure cold,
a cracked icicle lodged in their hearts."
Much like the group of children gathered around their teacher in the photo, the poem is brought to its conclusion around the
teacher with the words
“Mrs. Hurley was the bead in a carpenter’s plane
our balance & tilt. Together, we were once
something like a river, something like a cloud”

Time moves forward in a collective movement for the class with the results touching each individual like stones washed by the
current. In “Thorp Mill” this same theme is developed further as an abandoned mill by a canal reveals how time affects language.

“But I see only how

then and now are harnessed together,
how the dialect of the interstate
is descended from the railroad’s language,
the river’s precise diction.

While Auden spoke on a grand scale about our political philosophy, Roberta Feins speaks to the individual parts of a whole that,
when taken together, unites us all in the glory of that diversity. Time passes, touches then leaves its mark on our surroundings
in her poetry. It is the metaphor of the displaced Easterner interpreting this new environment with eyes still seeking that sun
rising over an ocean.

This is a fine book by an outstanding poet who has the strength and understanding to address one of the oldest themes in literature:
the sojourner in a strange land. Something Like a River gives us a unique view of this space and time based on Ms. Fines’ objective
sight and poetic prowess. To paraphrase Einstein, one should look for what is, not for what one believes it should be. Roberta Feins
has done this with a collection of truly unique poems.


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