HIBERNACULUM & OTHER NORTH-NATURED POEMS by Patricia Smith Ranzoni; OneWater Press, Bar Harbor, Maine, 2010; 24 pages, stitched, no price given
Living in Maine is easier said than done. Probably this is true practically everywhere, but in Maine there is the peculiar problem of finding it hard to say much of anything meaningful about it beyond “I lived here most of my life.” You instantly have tongue-tying knots to untangle. What you get from Pat Ranzoni are clear acknowledgments and disclosures of some of the most unsettling of those knots.
“Hibernaculum” (which means “the shelter of a hibernating animal”) treats themes coming into focus along the home stretch of a life lived in Maine. One of them is the endless effort to keep things simple. The author and her husband live “on one of the outback Hancock County subsistence homesteads of her youth” where they “still raise, gather, hunt and fish most of their food, keeping the old ways however possible,” according to the author notes. A poem on the essence of this Thoreauvian dictum to “simplify, simplify” is “Going Out While It’s Still Cold and Damp to Miss the Blackflies and See My Breath.” The title is virtually a poem itself.
Another theme is the unending bitterness of winter, which most summer people have little working notion of either in fact or in fancy. “Windeyes” begins: “Cape Rosier. Land’s end. / Numbing cold (goes without / saying),” which seems straightforward enough for any flatlander to grasp. But cold and bitter are never that simple here. There are always circumstantial complications, outer and inner:
… I’ll be damned
if these winds (orchestral)
are not having their way
with the ocean. Waves surging
back and back (not in )
(against the tide I mean).
Never seen the likes of it, you?
To my mind this is a quintessential Maine moment: The weather is biting exactly the way we expect, but hell if the most reliable of all natural unreliabilities, the ocean, isn’t defying its own natural bent.
A third theme, among many others, concerns the accumulation of life and the atticlike way the past seems to play on the present. In “Hibernaculum” it’s disclosed in a series of poems titled “Piano Lessons,” a detailed recollection of the beginnings and growth of a love of music, which from the age of about 8 the girl both embraces and bucks. “To open a piano is to open a door. Or close one.” (Note to the uninitiated: That laconic defiance of one’s own observation — with both parts seeming true — is also quintessential.) And six or so decades later, the world despite its welter is still astonishingly musical, which is to say beautiful, and more beautiful than it would have been with a shut piano, by far. “Swamp Camp in the Morning” reflects from maturity on childhood spent at this same camp and concludes:
She can’t get enough. Water lilies float
from her needles. Swamp roses an assignment
for her jellied mint.
This is an epiphanic moment rising, in diction and image, above the knots of reality, not untying them. Only emotion endures, not its undoing, and this sense of beauty emerges from its emotional soil, just like in life, I am happy and sorry to say.
If you want to know what it feels like to have tangled with winter here, try this little book. If it makes sense to you, then go on to the Gordian-tough stuff in Ranzoni’s earlier collection “Settling.” These are not postcards from Camden. “Hibernaculum” is available by writing to the author at 289 Bucksmills Road, Bucksport 04416, or OneWaterPress@aol.com.