Aligned with the Sky: Poems
by Kathy Lohrum Cotton
77 Poems ~ 4 Illustrations ~ 99 pages
Cover Design & Collage Art: Kathy Lohrum Cotton
Price: $12.00
Publisher: Independently published ~
ISBN #: 9798866560677
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

Recently, I called a plumber to the house to inspect a clogged basement drain. The technician explained to me that my basement drainage system was broken due to age. The couplings holding the pipes together had broken. Consequently, the pipes were out of alignment. After extensive excavation and great expense, I was assured that all the pipes were back in alignment, and henceforth, would be “clog-free.” This incident came to mind, as if on cue, the moment I retrieved Kathy Lohrum Cotton’s latest project from the mailbox. Your reviewer, like the clogged drain, finds himself in occasional need of a “life-inspection.” A revisiting of priorities, a spiritual “sit-down” to take stock of life and life’s priorities. Aligned with the Sky, arrived at just such a moment.

The work is organized into four interrelated sections: “Aligned with the Sky” (20 poems), “Aligned with Each Other” (18 poems), “Aligned Within” (18 poems),” and “Aligned with Nature” (21 poems). Cotton’s original collage art, which introduces each major division, exercised my mind as I entered each new phase. By “interrelated” I mean that Cotton is not a slave to categories. There is an ease about her work. Subjects and emphases overlap, integrate, touch and go, then return.

Cotton’s cover art depicts, in miniature, the collection’s theme. A girl about 6 years of age is perched on the top step of a ladder. She wears a pilot’s leather headgear, holds a toy airplane as she embraces the vast blue sky. The girl (perhaps the poet herself) isn’t looking for some deep theological or scientific explanation about why things are the way they are. She inhabits a world, her world. She IS the sky. She IS the wind. She IS the billowing clouds and swaying grass.

Titles such as “Where Will You Take Me Now?” “The Heavens,” “Eclipse,” “Night Song,” and “Leaving Like a Star,” spoke to my inner-child:

         Hands flung wide, I whirl and twirl,
         a six-year-old toppling into
         the green margin between
         our Lithuanian neighbor’s fence
         and Audubon Avenue. Dizzy drunk
         on school vacation freedom,
         I like sprawled face-up in wild grass,
         aligned with a wide blue expanse
         crowded with cumulus clouds.

         I don’t yet know cumulus
         from cirrus or stratus,
         but find shifting face-shapes
         in the billowy clouds,
         give them sky-people names,
         and compose little rhymes
         metered like Sunday School songs.

         Such is the beginning
         of my life as a poet.

The best poets retain vestiges of childlike wonder. “The Heavens” reflects upon Sunday School lessons which depicted heaven in terms of “its mansions and gold-paved streets, / an ever-listening ear to every prayer, / the reunion of departed loved ones.” With that said, an adult Cotton avers, “a poet can still fall speechless / at the sight of / sunrise, sunset, starlight.”

In other poems such as “Rainclouds Over the City,” she shifts from “Today’s leaden sky is heavy / as Monday-morning traffic– / snarled and clogged” … to the rain beckoning “peach blossoms, open petals / of forsythia and blue violets.”

         She prays:

         So bless this weighted-blanket
         drowse of grays and this
         sleepy Earth who will awaken
         to the music of falling rain,
         the percussion of thunder.

“Aligned with Each Other,” flows seamlessly into more complex personal relationships. “Connected” is Cotton’s welcoming poem:

         Stars buttoned
         to galaxies

         Sky hinged
         to Earth

         Rivers looped
         on mountain hooks

         Sunlight braided
         with clouds and wind

         The thread of you
         in the fabric of me


Emotional and spiritual maturity are hallmarks for this poet. To write poetry, poets must protect their quiet time. They must love solitude. Some poets take this too far. For Cotton, however, I sense an down-to-earth life-balance. In “Frayed Edges,” Cotton touches on the complexities of marriage: “No page-turn / heralds a thirty-first night / of one month passing into / the first morning of the next.// And no gap / lies between my frayed seams / and yours. Our edges / are forever tangled together, / beyond unraveling.”

She is sensitive to moments spent with good friends. Such moments are indispensable, as attested to by the sonnet “Fragrant Day”:

         From scent to heady scent, we three friends walk
         together through a little candle shop,
         inhaling tiny samples as we talk
         of soy and beeswax, drip and jar. We stop

         to breathe-in deeply old familiar scents.
         Patchouli, cedar, lilac. Lemongrass,
         verbena, lavender. Each represents
         a time, a place: the stories we will pass

         along while strolling to another store.
         We breathe each other in–the fragrant blends
         that we had barely recognized before:
         bouquet of sisters, confidants, close friends.

         The mingled scent of us now fills each room
         and turns our simple day to sweet perfume.

Your reviewer has only superficially touched upon the treasures contained in Aligned with the Sky. The other sections: “Aligned Within” and “Aligned with Nature,” produced within me equal portions of inspirational wisdom and delight at Kathy Cotton’s mastery of poetic-craft. “Just Because” reveals the spirit of the whole:

         Just because it’s today.
         Just because a sun
         I never touched
         touched me

         and a sky I couldn’t hold
         held me

         and a love I didn’t understand
         understood me.

         Just because
         the sun
         and sky
         and love
         are free

         I rejoice.

Little wonder that Aligned with the Sky won second place in the Illinois State Poetry Society’s prestigious Book of the Year competition for 2023.


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