By Traci Brimhall
Southern Illinois University Press
Reviewed by Stephen Page
I was exiting Saint Stephen’s Basilica (a name I am particularly fond of) in Budapest, when, in middle of the church square overlooking the Danube River, I noticed a giant of a man, at least two meters high, dressed in Medieval Knight’s garb complete with a shiny armor breastplate engraved with a Tural. His head was helmetless, and his hair was long and braided to the middle of his back. His facial features were not unkind, but his expression was stoic and he looked like he had been in a few brawls in his lifetime. On his extended right arm, roosting on a leather sleeve, was an enormous eagle (which I know now to be a White-tailed Eagle, a species that can attain in maturity15 pounds in weight, 92 inches in length, and 92 inches in wingspan. This bird looked like it was all that and more). The man turned to us and smiled, not quite an evil smile but more of a condescending smile, and seeming to single me out from the small group I was in (my wife, a couple who were our best friends, and the female tour guide) he began approaching me with determined strides. Now, granted, this is a vacation I was on, and I was in a tourist-thriving city, and the man was wearing tourist-attraction clothing and had an eagle (by God) on his arm, but if I were in Detroit and were coming out of a restaurant at night and this same man, minus the eagle of course, was wearing a black leather jacket and a knit cap, I might have thought that this was going to be one of those situations where I would have to push my wife and friends behind me and tell one of them to call the police. Seriously though, he just wanted to know if I would like to take pictures of myself with the eagle, for a small (ha, ha) fee of course. My wife was trembling next to me and grasping my arm like she wanted to cut off its circulation. I thought the idea was cool. He slipped the leather sleeve over my forearm and set the eagle atop it, and my wife and friends began snapping photos of us with a backdrop of the Hungarian Parliament Building. Pictures to send home to Mom. I smiled and felt macho with this huge entity of nature on my appendage. Yes, I was a man, a strong man, and I had this bird symbolic of strength on my arm. I was one with the eagle. Our souls were entwined. It was an extension of me. Then I looked at the eagle’s claws, which wrapped all the way around my forearm (which is pretty healthy in girth, if I do say so myself), and I thought about what eagles for do with those claws. They kill things and rip them to shreds. White-tailed Eagles eat mostly sea fish and cormorants, but depending on the season and how hungry they are, they will eat anything from rabbits to pigeons, snakes, and the hatchlings of other birds. They’ll even eat lambs if they are hungry enough. From the strength with which the bird gripped my arm and the size and sharpness of its talons, I could imagine this raptor, this element of destruction and death, flying into a tree filled with pigeons, its talons slashing and ripping, zeroing in on the fattest of the rookery, gripping and crushing the life out of the bird, bones cracking, blood splattering, feathers flying, and in the same motion, beating its enormous wings, lifting itself up and out of the tree, its gory prize dangling below, headed off to a cliff kilometers away, to share the freshly-killed meal with its hatchlings, the scent of blood and innards driving the chicks into a feeding frenzy.
In Rookery, Traci Brimhall’s first collection of verse, the narrator is, metaphorically speaking, a pigeon, and all of her lovers and male figures in her life are eagles. Brimhall brings to the reading world piercing language and empathic characters. Her poems rip and tear out your guts. They feed your intellect. They stimulate your senses. To the poetry world, Ms. Brimhall is brought in on wings, as if by a Tural.
Find Rookery on Amazon.
Check out Traci Brimhall’s website.
Listen to an interview with Ms. Brimhall on Late Night Library.
Read an interview with Ms. Brimhall on How a Poem Happens.
Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), winner of the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She was the 2008-09 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and currently teaches at Western Michigan University, where she is a doctoral associate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow.
This review published first published on Fox Chase Review.