By: Louie Skipper
Reviewed by: Emma Bolden
Settlement House, 2009
Rarely comes a book with the power to change the way its reader thinks, believes, and lives for the deeper, the fiercer, and the better. Louie Skipper’s It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun is such a book. These startling poems present a mind wrestling with the most difficult questions of being—what is our place in the world, what is God’s place in the world, and what are we to make of death?—in such a beautiful and brave way that the reader cannot help but be engaged in—and better for—the struggle.
In the tradition of Rilke and Rumi, Skipper grapples with the depths and heights of human spirituality. In particular, these poems artfully search for the truths of our lives on earth and beyond. Skipper envisions a universe in which the world responds to the power of our presence—“there is a story in the clouds. They see too much to come away with nothing. / The stars watch, and like everything that watches, change”—and in which we seek to exercise our power, like the godlike butcher who kills a fly, revives it with salt, then decides that “‘[a]nything that’s been through all that ought to live.’” It is with this power that these poems are largely concerned: Perception and memory themselves become wondrous and terrible abilities, capable of altering and even becoming reality. The memory of a person becomes his or her identity after death, and, for all of us, “the whole of [our lives] will be in the remembering.”
This great power leads the speaker to question how one should yield it. Skipper turns here to the example of Jesus, whose holiness comes partly from his knowledge of both the dead and the living: “Does knowing that Jesus’ death did not last / make it less than death, / any less lasting?” In “Of the Great One,” Skipper posits that in order to best wield one’s power, one should follow the example of Christ, who “waited for no one to hold him back, striding alone / into more than anybody wanted to know / about how far one man’s hell was willing to take him.” In acting with full knowledge of one’s self and one’s world, one acts rightly. The way to act rightly in the face of death is to act in a manner that is purely one’s own: Even “muttering aloud and alone, / flying through every word I shout / in the way of the wind, in the way of dirt” is a brave and beautiful act. May 2009
Emma Bolden, visiting assistant professor of English at Georgetown College, is the author of three chapbooks of poetry.