In September They Draw Down The Lake, by Suzanne Simmons
Review by Bill Rector
I do not know Suzanne Simmons, except by way of her chapbook, In September They Draw Down The Lake (Alexandria Quarterly Press, 2020). This is fitting, as her work derives its tension from the distance, emotional, physical, and temporal, that exists between herself and others.
The second poem in the book, “Commute,” concludes:
The train streaking beside us
blows its whistle, years ago.
We’re almost there.
Are we? The last poem in the collection is the echo she hears in the “shivery tunnels” of loons’ cries:
They cut through my dreams. Wake me.
Do you hear them? You on your shore?
The book is divided into three, untitled sections. The initial section focuses on loss and its constant companion, regret. The first loss is that of her mother, who had a glass eye, in which the author sees herself disappear. In “Self Portrait,” she writes:
Then, the loss of a lover/husband:
(I don’t miss you.) I miss air. (I don’t miss you.)
The second section is about her third loss, which is that of her son, who has autism. “Nursery rhyme” concludes with this wrenching sequence:
Normal health baby
At six, he asked Mommy, please kill me.
Smeared feces on the dinosaur wallpaper.
Came at me with teeth and eyes wild, clawing.
Rocking, rocking, rocking.
A later poem, “Coded” shows a family torn apart. The poem begins during a parent-teacher conference, in which the poet is sitting in a child-sized chair, and ends:
My husband begins crawling for the door.
Seventeen years pass.
I’m sitting in a child-sized chair.
I’m about to speak.
The heroine of the third section of the book is the lake near which the poet lived and perhaps still does.
It was sweet when you held me up.
Sweeter still when I dove to your bottom.
Thanks for lapping and churning
and the mornings when you lay under the mist
silent. I was furious every winter when you froze.
One might expect the body of water to express, through the many forms available to metaphor, a form of reconciliation.
Not so. Here in “Long Night,” is this:
Cold stuns the lake
onto glass. Portal moon.
[ … ] Hunger Moon,
and one called crust.
This is the moon of the unfuckable.
Between my boots and the rutted earth,
a skin of ice breaks.
This book is skillfully written and worth reading for that reason alone. Its actively beating and, at times, raw and raging heart, is representative of our times.
Editor’s note: There is an introduction to In September They Draw Down the Lake, written by Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic, which concludes with these words: “In a time of so much crisis, what a pleasure to read this kind, loving, beautiful work.”
Suzanne Simmons’ poems, essays and photographs have been published in the NYTimes, Fifth Wednesday, Rattle, Smartish Pace, The Baltimore Review and numerous other journals. Her chapbook In September They Draw Down the Lake was released by Alexandria Quarterly Press in 2020. Visit her at www.suzannesimmons.net.
Bill Rector is a retired physician. He formerly edited the Yale Journal of Humanities in Medicine. His publishing credits include a full-length poetry collection entitled, bill, through Proem Press, and five chapbooks: Lost Moth, about the death of his daughter, which won the Epiphany magazine chapbook competition; Biography of a Name (Unsolicited Press), relating the death of Jimmy Hoffa to contemporary American culture; Brief Candle (Prolific Press), a series of sonnets in modern idiom about selected characters from Shakespeare; Two Worlds (White Knuckle Press), relating the transcendent to the ordinary, which the editors called one of the most beautiful collections they have published; and most recently, Hats are the Enemy of Poetry (Finishing Line Press).
Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.