Microreviews: February/March 2021
Yoko Ono’s poetry collection conjures an unrelenting nostalgia for the towering shadow of bewilderment that subverts my assumptions about the world. Her thought experiments leave me awestruck by the natural world’s capacity to stoke my imagination, to call attention to the unconscious and arbitrary rules by which I process my surroundings. Each poem is coupled with a pointillist illustration, as if to assert again and again Ono’s off-kilter, abstract perception. The book seems to tenderly declare: This is not the earth you thought it was, but isn’t it amazing?
The Sunset Tree
The Mountain Goats
Like some Southern Californian alt-lit Leonard Cohen, or a literary transmutation of the Violent Femmes, singer-songwriter John Darnielle summons a melancholy yet optimistic atmosphere on the Mountain Goats’ ninth album. Darnielle’s purview—in which love, joy, and triumph mingle with pain, trauma, and suffering—is wide. On the song “Love Love Love,” we hear of King Saul’s biblical defeat, the murderous Raskolnikov’s spiritual angst, and Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Yet the song’s focus is constant: love will lead us through life’s difficulties: “Love is going to lead you by the hand.” On “Broom People,” Darnielle sings, “I write down good reasons to freeze to death… But in the long tresses of your hair, I am a babbling brook.” For Darnielle, love seems to be bound up in images of an escape into nature, so that moonrises and blooming cherry trees become at once emblems of relief from immediate suffering and a reminder of the world that lies beyond this world’s volatility and dysfunction.
The Hidden Life of Trees
It was midafternoon during an August hurricane. A dull thud rattled my bathroom; I felt a rumble in my feet. Trees had been falling since morning, but the blows barely sounded in my house. I cried when I saw that my century-old cherry tree had been uprooted. I pleaded with myself: Maybe we can put it back. Inadvertently, Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees reminded me of my grief over the trees falling, forcing me to wonder: When do we make time to mourn for our trees? Or to wonder at the years of biological and chemical complexity that forged my yard’s beautiful tree, all its memories and bonds, all its efforts to protect itself and the trees around it? All I do now is hope that it fell quickly enough that it never registered pain and acknowledge its success in thriving for so long. Its life was not in vain.