"Losing the Ring in the River" by Marge Saiser

"Losing the Ring in the River" by Marge Saiser

Meet the women of Losing the Ring in the River: Clara, the matriarch, Emma, her daughter, and Liz, her granddaughter.

Clara is the kind of woman who can see the artistry in a line of dried salt-sweat on the back of her husband’s shirt. She begins her married life, and Saiser’s book, with a sense of infinite possibility. Whether it is in an act as simple as cleaning a clothes line with “one fist skyward,” or besting her husband in a card game “just this one more trick past the/ unsuspecting Luke who/ is so intent on winning,” Clara is as delightful as the “blue ribbon rascal” she proclaims herself to be. Her true strength, however, is revealed through her responses to a life tainted by heartache and violence, and loss so profound as to be almost unspeakable.

Her daughter, Emma, greets life with a seemingly insatiable hunger. She wants something from both the past and the future than neither can provide. “It seemed as if I fingered a/ frayed blanket, tried to/ draw it around the shoulders/ of whoever I was:/ a woman so lonely/ I didn’t want to know her.” Though she doesn’t admit to it, she has her mother’s strength, and she needs it to survive a marriage gone wrong, described hair-raisingly in “That Moment When.”

“the moment the car lurched
and the speedometer went past
90, 95, 100,
and the road came fast toward the windshield,
the curve ahead now already here,
the white truck and the red car behind it
because my foot is on the accelerator pressing down,
pressing down because my husband, my
angry had-enough husband in the passenger seat has
jammed his boot on top my shoe
on top the accelerator”

In the final poem of Emma’s section, “To My Daughter,” we see a woman far wiser than the one who ran away from the mother she saw as little more than a “student of broken things.”

Liz, the granddaughter, inherited the hunger from her mother and the rebelliousness from her grandmother and she carries the history of this family of strong women in her very bones. Hers is an exuberant hunger: “Let me be the first snake of spring; let me writhe, immodest/ let me be a long white underbelly/ against the warm wrist of the garden.” And though her life, like her mother’s and her grandmother’s, follows the path of marriage and motherhood, she is her own woman, a “fish-belly girl” who skinny-dips with the neighbor boys, “stepping out on the particular rocks” she had been given.

These are the women of Losing the Ring in the River, a novel-in-poems, told in three parts. Each of the three parts is told from a different woman’s point of view so that the lives of each is revealed through intimate first-person poems, and expanded upon in the other two sections through the insights and observations of the other women. Each of the poems stands alone. Collectively, the poems form a web, a chain, a novel. The conceptual nature of this book generates a kind of “tell me more” energy that builds with each poem, with each woman’s story, so that when you get to the last poem in the collection “Take, Eat, This is My Body” you are at one and the same time satisfied with the book and yet hungry for more: more of Marge Saiser’s poetry. This book is a fine read – an emotion-filled, page-turner of a poetry collection.

Marge Saiser is the author of five books, including Lost in Seward County, Beside You at the Stoplight, and Bones of a Very Fine Hand. Her honors include an Academy of American Poets Prize and several Nebraska Book Awards. In 2009 Saiser was named Distinguished Artist in Poetry by the Nebraska Arts Council. Her poems have been published in Prairie Schooner, Chattahoochee Review, Field, and other journals.

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