The Lesson of Plums
by Lois Parker Edstrom
102 Pages ~ 78 Poems
Publisher: MoonPath Press
To Order: http://MoonPathPress.com
Loisparkeredstrom.com or Amazon.com
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
As I write this review I find myself waiting for what’s to come. The new year has turned;
the “virus” is still with us, a tumultuous political year has not fully played itself out; the
country has been visited by protests and riots during 2020 which continue into the new
year. A new administration will be sworn in, or will have already been, by the time this
review is published and read.
I cannot think of a more opportune moment to commend to readers the power and value
of poetry. Poetry works in times such as these to provide succor for the spirit and
perspective to the mind. I hold Lois Parker Edstrom’s, The Lesson of Plums in hand. I am
nearly done reading the volume when the following poem arrests my attention:
Waiting for What’s to Come
The sky broods over the inlet, deepens
to the exact color of an Italian plum,
then thunder cracks the silence
the ripeness splits the plum.
Why do we hold our breath as we wait
for what’s to happen? Do we think
we can stop the turning of the world,
the rotation of events about to occur?
We wait, bound in a cocoon of unknown
Expectation—a flash of excitement,
a flare of danger.
Lightning blinks its electrifying beauty
and the first drops fall, a gentle patter,
a rendition of grace upon a thirsty earth.
Somehow, through all our anxieties
and fears, most outcomes settle somewhere
between the worst and the best.
Yes, outcomes, settling “somewhere between the worst and the best.” Edstrom has a
knack for getting at the heart of things. She does so with the ease of Michael Jordan
banking in a layup, or the home run stroke of Anthony Rizzo.
The strength of “Plums” resides in the poet’s uncanny ability to marry the outer visible
world of nature, with the inner invisible world of the human spirit. By way of structure, I
appreciated the epigrams preceding each of Edstrom’s three divisions. These small gems
became reference points increasing my reading enjoyment as I made connections between
the sayings and the poems.
Let’s consider Edstrom’s opening epigram by Anne Frank, Look at how a single candle
can both defy and define the darkness. Frank’s life and subsequent death at Bergen-
Belsen concentration camp gave the world The Diary of Anne Frank, one of the most
discussed literatures of that period. Things that seem weak, of little strength or
consequence become sources of enriching power in Edstrom’s hands.
“Fragile Wings,” the collection’s lead poem, explores such mysteries as:
How a baby toddles through the maze of language
and finds a voice.
How finches know to wait on the garden fence
on the day snap peas push through the soil.
“The Quiet Core of Chaos,” asks each of us: “Is life at times a sudden disruptive
upheaval?” All we need do to prove this is reflect on 2020. Can a single candle help us
define the darkness? As Edstrom avers in this poem, “Truth is always a bit odd.” The
collection’s title poem is included early in Part One. Edstrom’s linkage with what is
observable in a ripening plum and applicable to life is certain to be an Ah! Ha! moment.
We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the
possibility of true joy, by Desmond Tutu, anchors Part Two. Tutu, hero of South African
anti-apartheid activism, identified with the disadvantaged, persecuted and underserved.
Yet, joy was a hallmark of Tutu’s life. These poems place an emphasis on joy; joy that
recognizes adversity as the spiritual soil which grows one stronger. Here is a sampling
from Edstrom’s “Kintsugi”:
Brokenness is not always obvious.
We don’t hear the crack or splatter.
This is meaningful to me because I own, a broken darker “self,” I don’t want anyone to
know about. Perhaps this is the case with some of you as well. The poem continues:
Unlike an egg dropped on a tile floor,
we have to believe we can be restored.
Editor’s Note: Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the
areas of breakage with lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The result
is a kind of redemption achieved by adding both beauty and strength to the broken piece.
The palpable need for human bonding is captured in “A Glorious Webbing.” Here
Edstrom observes a sweet pea plant climbing a trellis:
It should be about the fragrance but it’s not.
It’s about the sweet pea lashing itself
to the wire fence so tightly
tendrils must be cut to free the flower
and I’m drawn to the notion and need of bonds—
Victor Hugo opens the door to Part Three with a quotation about courage and hope, As a
bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, she still sings away all
the same, knowing she has wings. Edstrom, like Hugo, loves life; her poetry
acknowledges but does not dwell on the bending branch, but rather, takes flight enjoying the
next good thing on the horizon. Here is an example:
Stamp of Approval
It would be so much easier if we came stamped
with who we are meant to be.
If, at the time the umbilical cord is severed,
an indelible word would appear, tattooed in blood,
ever to remain:
farmer, engineer, artist, oceanographer, homemaker,
mathematician, violin maker, novelist, race car driver,
theologian, astronomer …
Thinking about it—during your midlife crisis,
when you sit staring at your navel, thinking
you are the great philosopher and will figure it out,
you have only to look a little closer to discover
who you are meant to be.
Friends allow Lois Parker Edstrom’s poetry to grace your life with a “stamp of approval”
to perch on a bending branch knowing you have wings to take flight and discover who
you are meant to be.