Tiller North by Rosa Lane
Sixteen Rivers Press, 2016; 69 pp.
Reviewed by Chloe Martinez
Rosa Lane’s vivid, intimate collection Tiller North gives us access to a world—a childhood and adolescence in a village in coastal Maine. But that world is better described as an ecosystem, for throughout these poems we come to understand insects and humans, trees and fishing boats, as interconnected and interdependent. Shared pleasures and suffering bind this ecosystem together, yet the poems also show how tenuous one’s place in the landscape can be. Harsh winters and age take a toll; another kind of peril lurks in a child’s sense of being different, “held hostage to a tribe not mine” (“Tomboy’s Toggle to Love”).
A father’s death haunts many of these poems, and we experience it as premonition, memory, and lived event—but always as a kind of transformation. Watching crows, he imagines someday becoming one:
they call for my father who told us
one day in the car, shifting
octaves of distance, pointing up,
One day I will be
one of them.
In the final days, the family members watching over the patient become flowers turning towards him, their setting sun:
The three of us: sunflowers planted
around his bed, our heads tracking
every move of our father’s fall.
The creatures and places in Tiller North are neither metaphors nor backdrops. In these quietly radical, deeply felt poems, Lane is able to give each animal, mineral and vegetable, somehow, a soul:
The barn speaks to the whisperer as if they sit
across a table eye-to-eye in conversation or argument.
The whisperer lifts one edge of the eave,
hushes secrets into the barn’s ear
as would any lover—the barn made as true
as the snort of its ghost horse
lying there now resting. See it?
Chloe Martinez lives with her husband and two daughters in Claremont, CA, where she teaches on the religions of South Asia at Claremont McKenna College. She is working on a scholarly monograph and seeking a publisher for her first poetry collection. A graduate of Boston University’s Creative Writing MA and the MFA for Writers at Warren Wilson College, her poems have appeared in The Normal School, The Collagist, Crab Orchard Reviewand elsewhere, and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.