Sandra Sidman Larson
ISBN: 978-1-59948-599-7, 112 pages, $15
Release date: April 4, 2017
Sandra Sidman Larson, twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, has four chapbooks to her credit: Whistling Girls and Cackling Hens and Over a Threshold of Roots (Pudding House Press), Weekend Weather: Calendar Poems (self-published), and Ode to Beautiful (Finishing Line Press). As a poet perched near the 45th northern parallel, but a wanderer, she is drawn to writing about the landscapes of her imagination wherever she finds herself. Holding an MSW, Sandra managed nonprofit organizations for a career, and, as a poet, she is an active member of The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and the grandmother of two.
Sandra Larson has a traveler¹s restless soul. While the deeply affecting elegies in This Distance in My Hands revisit moments of the past, Larson suggests that we are most alive when “we are headed straight into the wind.” Under these elegant, far-ranging poems lies a wealth of first-hand knowledge of the lives and struggles of others. Between the reader and the luminous, wounding world Larson’s words unlock, there is no distance at all. –Thomas R. Smith, author of The Glory
Meditating on the various distances, both literal and figurative, that the heart, and poetry, struggle to bridge, Sandra Larson takes us on a remarkable journey through very literal landscapes. How fortunate that we have such poems, with their strict attention to detail and striking, often mythical, images—from the “open door/of the owl” to the willow that offers “ropes of gold”— to carry with us as we travel “between this life and the next.” –Jude Nutter, author of I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman
Larson’s new poetry collection travels great distances of time and space. “Autobiography,” the prologue poem, shows her curiosity and open-mindedness to the world and its many forms of poems. The five-part book travels through the stages of life, with repeating themes throughout each section: work, social injustice, sorrow, spiritual search and celebration. What a gift this book is with its well-crafted poems, stunning reflections on a full life. –Roseann Lloyd, author of The Boy who Slept Under the Stars: A Memoir in Poetry
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Gothic in design, fluted with knowledge,
the college library is my destination. Flashing
my card, I drop my satchel by the wooden catalogues.
All the drawers have tongues. They mouth
“O” for Obstetrics. Hush! I carry the medical
volumes edited by male experts up to a small carrel.
Working in reverse, I fan the pages with nervous
fingers. A baby’s delivery threads backwards
from Gestation, to Conception, Conception to Prevention.
Gym class, eighth-grade. Miss Zackas, wooden
pointer in hand, had tapped the screen and traced
the egg’s path from the fallopian tube to the womb
where once released, it awaits the wiggly sperm.
Now among the stacks, I learn diaphragms
take a doctor’s fitting and clinical scrutiny of my plans.
Rubbers? Gloves best handled by the male.
I’d have be a scientist of The Rhythm Method,
look for love at just the right moment, which came
sooner than expected. In flaming red lipstick, red dress,
black stockings, and ill-informed knowledge, I arrived
on the arm of my boyfriend for the José Greco show,
my favorite Spanish dancer. On stage, the spotlight
settles on a tall figure dressed in gray. His back
to the audience, one booted foot crossed over
the other. His slim buttocks, round and firm,
presents only the idea of what rises
in front of him. A singer begins to wail.
The light widens to embrace the woman,
who reaches to lift her skirt and begins
a staccato rhythm with her heels. His black boots
respond. My heart pounds as if I were
entering a dark cave. The cracked voice
of the shadowy singer drawing me in further
and the dancer, too, raising her shoulders,
caresses her breasts and torso with the sweep
of her long fingers as with unrelenting pace
the tall man draws her closer and closer.
Later that night, my heart echoes that cadence
of desire as I shake off my heels, slowly
unsnap my garter belt, peel down
my nylons, then dance toward my own slim lover
who watches my steady, if amateur, moves
and I hear the singer’s wails when I sink
into his hard embrace. Small drops of blood
fall to the floor like flowers tossed on stage.
The curtain has come down. Yet weeks later
I venture back through those graceful columns
and up the stairways that led the wrong way.
I select more carefully the material I may need now—
references for Gestation. Or routes to clinics in Mexico.
I’ve been to Itasca, done what is commonly done—stepped
over the source of the river—although it was hard to know
how one can could see the beginning with certainty
from that vantage point. But it is impressive to stand
imagining water gathering water from thirty-two states
and two Canadian provinces, gathering earth from its waist.
The river flows, first through Minnesota,
then, over the silt from its sides, down
through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri
where it doubles in size and flows on—Kentucky,
Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
The river’s broad reach is still home to the Dakota,
the Cheyenne, Ojibwa, Potawatomi—all the First People
who traveled its marsh alders and its sedges, cultivating
goosefoot, and following the waterfowl, catching
its catfish from wide-bottomed boats, making paths
for other pioneers spreading westward across deep oceans
of grass, putting down roots while the river moves on.
From its springs in Itasca, a ninety-day journey to the levees
in New Orleans, the water flows. For us the trip may be shorter
but we unable to do what we do at the start,
which leads me to wonder why it is impossible
to step across the wide end of anything.
My bones laced together with this soil;
I hear lost hopes cracking.
I hear tall grasses, the prairie’s last breath,
language thrown into open graves.
Many tribes caught in wheels of blame
The People explain,
yet, there is joy and pride in the act
of holding on. I came here to escape
other ancestors, into this land where
ancestors were not allowed, yet remain.
Tables laden with venison, fry bread and
succotash give, if not daily comfort for me,
then nourishment. Hope drifts west.
One thousand miles from here, the Rockies
rise, yet this flat, granite ground must do.
The smoke from winter fires curls upward
as if offering a myriad of blessings,
and I reach out my hands to grasp them.
In the gym we expect fancy dancers,
jingling silver bells, their sweet percussion.
An old man staggers toward me and says,
No white organizers are welcome here.
Ignore him, my Indian colleague says.
I didn’t know the pain was still that deep.
So I can only have my own ancestors?
Buried on the East Coast, they are not listening.