High Ground Coward by Alicia Mountain
University of Iowa Press, April 2019. 112 pages.
Reviewed by Naoko Fujimoto

Confession, desire, and darkness are the main themes in Alicia Mountain’s, High Ground Coward (Iowa Poetry Prize). I recall meeting her at the RHINO 2019 contributor’s reading in Portland, Oregon. Did I feel that vibe from her appearance? She was indeed handsome—as if watching an actor in legitimate theater. Like the Earth’s inner core, she exuded a seriousness and intensity, but also a playful attitude at the same time. 

Alicia Mountain is a master of melding opposite ideas in subdued, conversational, and concise lines. The poem, A Year or Two begins with, “I want very quiet, moneyed pain…” Her central themes, desire (“I want”) and darkness (“moneyed pain”) condense in this opening line. The narrative seems to seek release from a feeling of suffocation— “…waiting for the tow pound attendant to unlock the gate.”

This poem embodies the narrator’s desire. She longs to be with her girlfriend who may be in an abusive or unhappy relationship. The narrative quietly confesses her thoughts about long-term relationship, perhaps even marriage, but in the end, she finds herself alone at 4 AM.

     “…I’ll kick the ass of the boyfriend

     that you are far too good for, 

     then take up Zumba and Pilates.

     I won’t talk about getting dumped

     In a trailer park anymore, begging…

     Some dark July, when the tomatoes in

     My overwatered garden split open,

     Only then will I blame myself, wonder

     If I ever deserved organic anything.

High Ground Coward, like life, can be heartbreaking—

      I will armpit your hands for warmth. I will flare the dark, I will splint and carry you    

      through when you need it.                                  

                                                             (“Almanac Traction”)

--but like life, it is not without sparks of humor to counter the darkness.

       “Sometimes light bulbs fall asleep, too”      

  (“The Whole Water-Faced Auditorium”) 


Naoko Fujimoto was born in Nagoya, studied at Nanzan Junior College and received a B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University. Her recent publications are forthcoming in POETRY, Kenyon Review, and Diode Poetry Journal. Her poetry collections, Where I Was Born (Willow Books), Glyph: Graphic Poetry=Trans.Sensory (Tupelo Press, 2020), Mother Said, I Want Your Pain (Backbone Press), Silver Seasons of Heartache (Glass Lyre Press), and Home, No Home (Educe Press) are available from each press. She is a RHINO associate editor.