Twigs & Knucklebones is a rare thing in poetry—a very good read. Fans of Sarah Lindsay's previous books, National Book Award finalist Primate Behavior (1997) and Mount Clutter (2002
),will find here what they found there, only more so: freaks of nature and freakish nature, far-flung and underexplored places, things scientific and sci-fi, real things that seem invented, imaginary things that seem real. Orchids that grow underground. The introduction of starlings to America. Cities of the dead. Life on Jupiter's moon.
Lindsay's poems are as narrative as poems can get—they tell elaborate stories—but aren't at all confessional. Lindsay uses the word "I" to refer to herself or a poet-speaker in very few poems. Her voice in Twigs & Knucklebones is omniscient yet intimate, super-literate and flawlessly graceful, like a really good lecturer who knows how to entertain an audience while speaking on complex subject matters. In a sense these are "Research & Development" poems. One suspects Lindsay reads an article, for example, about a species of extinct zebra, then writes "Elegy for the Quagga." But the R&D never overwhelms insight or music. "Krakatau split with a blinding noise," writes Lindsay, of the volcanic island's 1883 explosion. "Fifteen days before, in its cage in Amsterdam, / the last known member of Equus quagga, / the southernmost subspecies of zebra, died." A little later, "Who needs to hear a quagga's voice?"
The poet does, and by the end of the poem, so does the reader—and can't. It feels like a kind of wound:Even if, when it sank to its irreplaceable knees,
when its unique throat closed behind a sigh,
no dust rose to redden a whole year's sunsets,
no one unwittingly busy
two thousand miles away jumped at the sound,
no ashes rained on ships in the merciless sea
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