Marking the Hours
by Lenora Rain-Lee Good
39 poems, 96 pages
Publisher: Cyberwit.net, 2020
To order: Amazon.
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Lenora Rain-Lee Good was born and raised in Oregon and now resides in the steppes, or high desert, of Washington State. She writes short memoir, fiction, radio plays and poetry. Her publications include Madame Dorian: Her Journey to the Oregon Country (S & H Publishing, 2014), Blood on the Ground: Elegies for Waiilatpu (Redbat Books, 2016) and Jibutu: Daughter of the Desert (S & H Publishing, 2018). Marking the Hours is her third full-length collection of poetry.
This volume is steeped in history. Part Native American (Catawba), Good is fascinated with different cultures and enjoys inhabiting their different worlds in her fiction and her poetry.
Opening with a quotation from a Suquamish Chief which states ‘There is no death, only a change of worlds,’ Good proceeds to address the subject of death from a range of different perspectives including her own. In ‘My Dream of Heaven’ she dreams that she has already died and gone to Heaven, in ‘2,075 Possible Tickets to Eternity’ she writes movingly about the tragic malfunction and disintegration of the Challenger spacecraft and in ‘Mary Oliver Wants to Die When it’s Raining’ she writes in more relaxed mode about how she cannot make up her mind when she wants to die, whether it be in the Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter. In the end she tells us ‘I don’t suppose / it matters. I will die when / Death calls for me and / not a day sooner. His / timing will be perfect – as long / as it’s next season.’ In ‘My Death,’ Good writes fearlessly about the subject personifying Death as her lover who ‘will carry me in his arms / through the door of / our new home.’
‘Riding with the Assiniboine’ is a poem that inhabits two dimensions: this world and the next:
Whenever Daddy’s body needed a respite,
whenever his mind needed space,
a band of Assiniboine braves only he could see,
who never spoke, brought his horse,
took him riding, then brought him home.
The Assiniboines are an offspring of the Sioux and their name in the Chippewa language means ‘burnt rock.’ They are Native American people originally from the Northern Great Plains of North America.
Good’s fascination with the tribal past continues in ‘Anasazi Blizzard’ when she describes Highway 550 running through the land of the Anasazi or ‘ancient peoples’. Here, she reflects upon the abandoned pueblos:
Abandoned for reasons we can only guess…
a dry creek? Too many rats in the granary?
Clay pots empty of stew? Climate change?
Late spring blizzard robs me of comfort,
steals my warmth. I long for the welcoming
heat of fires that once burned in the now empty
stone rooms. I long for surcease from the pain
of wind-whipped snow. I yearn for the perfume
of stews that haven’t been cooked here in generations.
This is just one example of how, through the power of the imagination, Good brings the past back to life.
Racial discrimination is at the core of poems such as ‘All My Relations’ and ‘Othello the African’. In the former, Good incorporates the recent tragic death of George Floyd: ‘His primary crime? / His skin was black. / Skin was black.’ In the latter, inspired by a photograph of a tombstone in a pre-Revolutionary War cemetery, Good writes about the crowded tombstones that ‘slump at various angles’ and ‘protect each other from feuds / long forgotten’ all except one that stands apart ‘ostracized and / alone,’ It belongs to Othello the African:
….Loved by all he is also
here, with his own engraved stone.
Just not too near, for he
was loved, just not enough.
In ‘David Malin Cortez’ Good retells the story of a child of a Spanish fur trapper and a Native mother ‘not wanted by either’ and how he was adopted time and time over, knowing love and then having it cruelly taken from him.
By contrast, ‘This While’ is a beautiful love poem in which the simplicity of the language reveals a deep felt emotion. The ominously titled ‘Saving Against Alzheimer’s’ is also a very positive poem. Inspired by the South Korean film ‘Poetry’ it is both inventive and uplifting as Good writes:
Fill your yellow scarf with happiness. The bliss
of laughing babies, your first published poem,
happy times with good friends, the joys of discovery.
Knot that scarf over your heart; hold it tight. Keep the
good nouns close, the happy verbs a part of your life. Hold
onto scarves, the knots, as you sail off the bridge.
Your nouns and your verbs will survive.
In ‘Waiting Outside A Village in Viet Nam’ inspired by Ahn Junghyo’s novel ‘White Badge: A Novel of Korea’ which depicts the experience of South Korean soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War alongside American troops, Good’s poem tells of an old man who struggles to deal with his experience of the War. Good revisits history in ‘Dachau, KZ Gedankstadte’ and evokes the past in ‘Because It is Waiilatpu’, the place of the rye grass, conjuring up ‘the death songs of those who lost / their blood upon the ground’ in the Walla Walla massacre of 1847.
A number of poems are inspired by, dedicated to, or written in response to, other literary figures. Among them are the American author Tony Hillerman, best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels, the South Korean novelist and literary translator Ahn Junghyo and the American novelist, satirist and poet Erica Jong.
The title poem, which Good describes as ‘a personal essay in poetic form’ comprises a sequence of short poems which she wrote to keep track of the hours when she sat with her uncle during his last night on earth. Good confesses that the poems were written more to keep her awake than anything else. She truly did not know that it would mark the end of his life. In this final sequence of poems, Good spins her poems off quotations from authors as various as the Persian poets Hafiz and Rumi, the American writer Richard Bach, the Austrian holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal and the Chinese author Deng Ming-Dao. Good uses these quotations as springboards from which to launch her own thoughts in the context of the situation in which she finds herself. The sequence is prefaced with a quotation from the work of Mary Oliver and two further quotations from Oliver act as a preface and an epilogue to sections within the sequence.
Good’s poems, often incorporating historical events, helps us never to forget the sacrifice of others or, for that matter, as we journey through the valley of the shadow of death, to focus on the joys of living while they are ours to be had.