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The Doll Without A Face

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A faceless Iroquois doll is presented to a young boy by his grandmother, along with a wrenching tale of how Native Americans lost children, children their parents, and all, their identities, as the Mingo Indians were driven west out of Pennsylvania. The same grandmother relates a folktale full of warning to the present-day, as playing children are whisked away into the sky by mysterious forces. The boy who grows up to be a poet is charged with keeping these stories as dreams, “until the time of remembering.”

In this collection of 46 new poems and revisions, presented consecutively as they were written in 2018-2019, Brett Rutherford leaps from childhood memories of another set of desperately-poor grandparents (“Out-Home Summers”), to a Medieval Annunciation painting, to a battle of the Napoleonic war set in bombarded cemetery, to stories of the gods and heroes of Greece and Norse/Germanic mythology.

Inevitably, a troubled era intrudes on the poet’s writing, in poems that ask a complacent symphony audience, whose children have not disappeared, whom they voted for; in a hex song for thirteen witches planning a beer-infused punishment for a high-court judge; in a dream-message from frightened animals; in a ballad-style lyric about a partisan-fighter and the woman who loved him; and in a lonely mountaintop vigil, looking down on the horrors of war. One autumnal poem set at a Pennsylvania lake challenges, “Where does one take a stand for life?”

Translations are an important part of this volume, and each has a special urgency. A war narrative by Victor Hugo. A rumination about degenerate empires and their cruelty by Yevgeni Yevtushenko. A political warning by Solon the Athenian. Sad lyrics about being a poet in troubled times by Anna Akhmatova (“Who Cares to Listen to Songs?”) and Ludwig Uhland (“The Poet Who Starved”).

Love poems, supernatural fantasies, and other word-explosions in this volume show the poet still as mischievous as ever, sitting with Poe on a Manhattan pier, recounting Providence’s urban horrors, a dream of being Dante, trying to fend off love with plasma physics, reflecting on rampant fungus, eavesdropping on the Virgin Mary, and employing sorcery to fight off a persistent vampire.
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