Turquoise Door: Mabel Dodge Luhan in New Mexico by Lauren Camp
3: A Taos Pres, 2018. 117 pp.
Reviewed by Donna Vorreyer
“Every road comes to an end and then bends, and out of this, the steady is made.” This line from Lauren Camp’s Turquoise Door: Mabel Dodge Luhan in New Mexico previews a collection that follows the speaker’s journey away from home. She has left all that is familiar to discover herself in the environment and history of the place where she has retreated to write.
Mabel Dodge Luhan hosted luminaries in the art world such as Georgia O’Keefe, D.H. Lawrence and Willa Cather. Their voices, along with Mabel’s, populate this speaker’s journey into a landscape, itself a character in its own right, ghosts and insecurities trembling with the aspen leaves. In fact, the landscape’s inhabitants are repeated so often in the book, they become touchstones for the recurring themes and questions of the poems themselves, a sort of thematic field guide for the reader.
When leaves of an aspen tremble, they can appear silver in the light, rustling like music. The aspen can symbolize a communication with other worlds, a loosening into a new way of being. Camp spends the first few poems writing about the leaving behind of husband, of the familiar landscape on fire, of certainty, before being able to move into the present of her surroundings, which are inextricably linked to the past, albeit not hers.
Am I here to recover, breeze by blue breeze? It sounds as if my life were/ all darkness. There were details. Home was ritual. The birds were numinous./Here, light roams around windows, offering two sides of praises, unfinished. (from “Letter to Mabel: Under Vigas”)
When I first stepped through/this doorway, my arms heavy with past tenses,//I could still hear almost/everything else in my life:/ the choreography of desiccated passions,/the daybreak weeping/by fractions. (from “Past Tenses”)
The plant’s name could indicate insincerity or the idea of “choking” back thoughts or words that are not supposed to arise. The fruit itself is tart but not toxic, but the pits are, perhaps indicating a feeling of trepidation, a feeling that Camp explores in poems that show reverence for the artists and authors who haunt this landscape while revealing the complicated relationships the speaker develops with both ghosts and real people inhabiting in this space.
I drove through the old blinking light to the ranch you gave Lawrence. [...] Despite sudden afflicted weeds and shamble, the needy arrive for opinions./Yet the house has shed its unsteady hand. Every breach, each final line,/the pace of his sentences. Walls in the cottage crack.// We want his spelling of sorrow, all the trembling. Have we asked too much? (from “Letter to Mabel: From A Door Turning Inward)
The man thanked me/ for not kissing him. Less//to carry back. His speech/was in tune and somewhat//restrictive. We stood/in the house without flowers//without segment. With somewhere/his wife and children - //but here, with only the light/cloth of summer.[...]For once, I was guilty//of nothing, not even/the moon’s sprawling. (from “The First to Refuse”)
Juniper has long been treasured for its scent and can symbolize purification, healing, and manifestation of a desired life. Camp’s speaker finds a different type of peace in this landscape, a confidence and connection to the earth that is heightened by her surroundings. In this way, the poems become manifestations of the changes in the writer, a sort of spiritual healing of the uncertainty that seemed to follow her in the early poems.
Juniper berries are little prayers//or small ghosts//or blue sacks/that settle/like dust in our throats.
(from “God of the Clustered Night”)
I say to no one in particular I know the lines of love I am standing/in them I am softened by this vulnerable body these footsteps//Figuring out this exact substance the fold of slow wind/more and more wherever there is ambiguity I will wear it (from “Four Streets From Town”)
Aren’t we all ghosts, overhearing the cracks in our cups? The sky was/filled with stems and limbs, the shapes complete, then missing. She and I/looked out. The thrilled whistle of the magpies! We had no more purpose than the strands of their spell. (from “Letter to Mabel: The Gate of Layers”)
The cottonwood tree, with its early summer “snowstorm” of seeds, can symbolize traveling and rebirth, its feathery seeds sometimes drifting for miles before settling in new soil. As the collection weaves toward an ending, it looks back on the many lives and experiences the speaker has journeyed in order to re-root the self in a more fertile place of imagination, comfort, and reclamation. The reader exhales with the speaker, watching the New Mexico sky fade in the rearview mirror.
Back then, I didn’t understand/loss of drifting, but now in the long arc/of summer, if I sit outside, a beer in one hand,/the trees will keep falling above me,/loosing their cotton, and insects will recklessly,/perilously quiver. I know I can’t capture them./Wind comes in from the cemetery and park./The sound of buzzing. Such thrilling lanterns. (from “And Somehow More Light”)
Last night the moon took me back/in its discipline/as if light could restore what I’d carefully set aside./The window flickered its lace. (from “My Bed in the Luminous Fray”)
I turned from your home where I let go the interrogation of ash. Entered/the script of oak and aspen. Every worry taken from me. And now to the/roads and folds and tender way down. There is gold in the sky, on the/trees —continuous and distant. The sparks are as fists, and I am about to/return to their constriction. Is this on my heart? Is anything?//I drive. I know the way. (from “Letter to Mabel: On the Crescent of Home.”)
Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress, 2013) as well as eight chapbooks, most recently The Girl (Porkbelly Press). Her reviews have appeared in The Rumpus, Quarterly West, Sugar House Review, Cider Press Review, Tinderbox Poetry, and other journals.