Leslie Sainz
What Breaks Through

Four Collections on Awe

A Common Name for Everything, by Sarah Wolfson. Green Writers Press, 80 pp., $14.95.
Stray Harbor, by Rage Hezekiah. Finishing Line Press, 71 pp., $19.99.
& in Open, Marvel, by Felicia Zamora. Parlor Press, 90 pp. $14.
Valuing, by Christopher Kondrich. University of Georgia Press, 80 pp., $19.95.

What a time to be alive—state-sanctioned murder against black people perpetrated in high-definition, a global pandemic that continues to decimate our most vulnerable populations (especially black, brown, and undocumented communities), the omnipresent threat of violent, white supremacist insurrections. Where do we turn when the grief and exhaustion of trying to survive feels too weighty to bear? We are living in a cultural moment when poetry is recited at the Super Bowl, so it may come as no surprise that actual poetry readership has increased dramatically over the last couple of years, a trend mistakenly characterized as a “comeback” (where did it go?). But poetry in the digital age looks different. Increased reach is a good thing, though a quick scan of literary Twitter reveals that a certain level of celebrity is required to catch the eyes of the community at large. It is in that vein that I wish to discuss new books by Sarah Wolfson, Rage Hezekiah, Felicia Zamora, and Christopher Kondrich—books that, with the possible exception of Kondrich’s 2019 National Poetry Series winner, have not received the level of attention the digital age promises or that their craft and narratives deserve. These collections are striking in their service to language over ego. Wolfson, Hezekiah, Zamora, and Kondrich are more interested in kneeling before their muses than standing on the proverbial soapbox and asking reputation and status to do the heavy lifting. These are books that trace the distance between tragic selves, that suggest we are in service to the natural world, not domineers of it, that do the difficult work of holding space for both fear and wonder. These are books that break through artifice.


Perceptive, careful, and excitingly fresh, it’s easy to forget that Sarah Wolfson’s A Common Name for Everything is, in fact, a debut collection. While certain structural decisions are right at home among first books of poetry —the collection is organized into four cool sections of nearly equal length, for instance,—there’s no prototypical hero’s journey in sight, no “After” poems that nod to mentors and teachers of past and present, no preoccupation with celebrity. A quick glance at Wolfson’s Acknowledgements section reveals much about her influences, with Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaecology, and NOAA Ocean Service Education serving as clear standouts. But make no mistake, A Common Name for Everything is far from one-note in its enthusiasms. No, Wolfson’s world is kin to the essential ecological poetics of Brenda Hillman and Juliana Spahr, while questioning whether any sort of classification—be it linguistic, personal, or natural—is possible. What results is part doomsday projection, part playful tabula rasa, part wildlife conservancy, and part nuanced meditation on motherhood.

We begin on a train, in a hazy second-person study of the liminality of travel. “Arrival is the new horizon. / Near the door—to what?—the young / stuff their ears and mouths.” Disorientation abounds, we know not where we’re headed, though we get the sense our destination is just as eerie as the towns that “wave their plastic welcome mat” as we pass them. And just when we’re through questioning our position in space-time, we’re initiated into the movement of categorization that weaves the collection together: “Then it’s time to pool / your languages, choose one for housekeeping, one for games, / one to describe the slightest changes in weather.” 

Wonder—both in its purest and most theoretical forms—soon takes hold. In the first installment of Wolfson’s “Study” sequence (the other poems in the series are humorously identified as “unfunded,”) we’re introduced to an experiment that “sought to fuse what we / know about ewes with what / we know about music.” Mother sheep were played Wagner for hours, and their milk production soared as a result. The ewes fed happily until they didn’t, until a seemingly good thing ended, as all good things do. When the retelling of the study wraps, we’re graced with one of Wolfson’s best poetic dismounts.

Just sheep, just sheep and
sheep and song. And when
the song ended, just grass
and bats and the loneliness of
dreams, even the realized kind.

And just like that, a deceptively simple dialectic ending introduces the biological conflicts that guide our every observation hence forth. Who are we to inflict human standards of optimization upon the natural world? How could we ever question that enough to right our ecological wrongs? It’s hard to ignore the objects here—a mother and her young. The fragility and sacredness of this relationship, be it human or animal, is yet another guiding light for A Common Name for Everything.

Before the first section concludes with “Love Song in a Small Place,” a harmonic testament to experiencing intimacy with the natural world, we encounter “Fruiting Bodies,” a four-sectioned, heavily caesuraed prose poem sequence that dissects creation and duty with devastating flair. It is here we meet arguably the most profound moment in the entire book.

After unimaginable tragedy humans are
fond of saying how will she move forward? As if one could
get the upper hand on grief. As if one could get the upper
hand on grief by mounting some human-made vehicle.

Wolfson—no stranger to warning her audience of the failures of human exceptionalism—reminds us that no studies, no structures, no technologies are capable of softening extreme loss, in this instance, an implied miscarriage. But instead of containing this moment in isolation, she doesn’t let us look away. “My body watches    boggled    the individuals it has inside- / outed.” The plurality of the line, the wonder implicit in the word “boggled” implies the speaker is referring to the children that survived. And yet, the haunting of the “unimaginable tragedy” looms overhead until the clever humor of the final section, with its comparison of the planet Pluto and the victims we make of ourselves.

“Little Here, Little Now,” the second section of the book, is more concerned with “why,” than “how.” “Why / do I want to say God rest his soul when / I don’t believe in God, only souls, not in /places of rest,       only rest?” asks “Garlic.” But while there are flashes of brilliance scattered about, the collection begins to lose its characteristic candor mid-way through. Poems like “The Rural Pantheon,” and “Nearer, My Bog, to Thee,” assume a more archaic voice that clashes with what we have come to love about A Common Name for Everything—its ability to delight and instruct without needless displacement. However, the collection quickly recovers with “Declared Nuisances,” a poem so involved with the mundanity of suburban witnessing that somehow, in its stark and breathy lines, we, too, become fascinated by the generations of sparrows that leave their mark on the electrical box and the widowed woman hoping desperately for activity from her garden. The next poem, “The Place and the Whale,” takes advantage of this buy-in to ask what brings us together, real or abstract—“Hallucination? Wish? Who needs a reason.”    

Whatever the reason, we’re grateful to be ushered into the book’s third act, which takes the wonder of the introduction and elevates ordinary happenings in the natural world to the status of linguistic playground. What results is a captivating marriage between fascination and myth-making. There’s no greater example of this intersection than “The Mountain,” the longest poem in the entire collection, at three pages of tidy quatrains.

We went up the mountain
to see about love. We went
up the mountain to ask
about bears, to play at
Moses. We went to see
remnants, to laugh,
at the summit, at the circled

The fluidity of the collective voice continues as it predicts climate disaster. “From here / it’s possible to see a time/ when even the world’s largest /rock ceases.” And though we gain another powerful glimpse into man’s insatiable need to control nature, what makes “The Mountain” stand out is its ability to rejection anthropocentrism with precise, elegant lyric. “What good are we / with our three names / for birds and our zero / language for their songs?” Echoes of this critique spill ever so slightly over into the formally distinct “The Prayers of Sheep,” which invites us to laugh at our own reticence.

I used to loath
academics’ hegemonic kingdoms,
the gussied up language
for blueberries
grow from good earth.
Eat it, I thought, or at least
call it what it is. Then
I found the word
Weltschmerz. Now I know
we must all find our own ways
to take ourselves
too seriously.

In the collection’s final moments, birdsong turns to lullaby. Our vulnerable speaker dances circles around old parenting clichés, makes lesson of her son’s birth story, and offers us a sizeable dose of forgiveness. This sense of resolution is especially palpable in “An Unfunded Study of Milking and The Moon.”

If you can’t have sleep,
have extinction. Ask any new mother
about long winter nights. If by chance
the child sleeps, your lions lie with you,
awake and needy, and even if through skill
you calm them, there’s always that one
piece of moonlight come to pose
its stubborn Pleistocene questions.

In many ways, A Common Name for Everything resembles that very piece of moonlight, though we’re happy to mull over its series of “stubborn” questions for quite some time.


“love is earned / by staying small and quiet,” advises the paternal grandfather in “Kitchen Children,” the second poem in Rage Hezekiah’s arresting debut, Stray Harbor. This rattling declaration vibrates throughout the collection in poems that skillfully examine a childhood changed by violence and codependency. Hezekiah’s strengths are her breadth and her ability to detail character in just a few sentences. Let it be known, however, that there’s as much awe in this book as there is ache. We are led through the many timelines of Stray Harbor with unmatched dexterity, and what ensues is a radical queer anthem ripe with insight into how we can take steps toward healing.

Alongside the early cacophony of ceramic dishes shattering against cement, or the quick wind of a leather belt being pulled taut in preparation for a beating, is the gentle creep of a New England tide, the low distant cries of seabirds. In “Salem,” we see Hezekiah’s speaker escaping to the beach for a sense of fleeting calm.

Only when my feet
can’t find the bottom do I fear the ocean,
and yet I bargain, dare myself
to swim where I can barely touch. If I reach
the buoys, they’ll be no more yelling.
The check won’t bounce at the grocery store.
Mom’s car won’t hit the median
when she comes home from the bar.

Such are the superstitious games of a nine-year-old black girl, “an unsupervised child,” desperate for control in a world unconcerned for her safety. Though she barely reaches the “bobbing mass,” her hopes of a harmonious household are soon sundered. The poem ends: “At home I’ve learned to push my clothes / against the edges of my bedroom closet, / when I do, there’s space enough to sit.” Thus the collection’s existential question—who or what can hold us when our own arms are full? “Cove,” the first section of Stray Harbor, rightfully doubles down that for a number of us, biological family members are not the answer. In “Advice,” a poem that chronicles the divorce of the speaker’s parents through her mother’s attempts at drunken catharsis, we learn that the separation of two chaotic figures is not enough to render the home pleasant, or even tolerable. We feel empathy for the now ten-year-old speaker as she listens to middle-aged heterosexual women curse their relationships: “Men? Who needs ‘em? / What a fuckin’ waste of everything.” Yet again, our speaker is caught between the emotional demands of adults and childhood innocence. Our compassion for this speaker is magnified by the final stanza’s reveal.

After the divorce, my mother
paints our home pink, deems it
The Feminist Safe House. Still,
years later, she’s panicked and upset
when I’ve fallen in love
with a woman.

At this point we’re no stranger to the divides between mother and daughter. Where a lesser collection might let the ills of a mother’s intolerance hang in the air as a hypocritical value judgement, Stray Harbor uses this pivotal moment to launch a nuanced look into pity. The message of I-will-empower-you-to-not-want-men-just-don’t-want-women is dismissed through the very acquirement of a safe love, a queer love. “My two fingers trace / your deepest part,” starts the collection’s second section. Here begins a time of awe—awe for the lover’s body, its similar signs of abuse, awe for the radical notion of caring for one’s self, of making “love of yourself perfect, / as though this is enough.” And for a few moments, it is.

Immediately following this meditation on the gift of love is “Botany,” a lyrical explanation for how trauma asks us to root away previous versions of ourselves and those who’ve caused us harm. While the poem provides a powerful glimpse into the speaker’s self-definition as someone who surrenders, it also exposes one of the collection’s weaknesses—Hezekiah tends to restate the known. Overt family tree metaphor notwithstanding, “Botany” is less successful in its attempts to communicate the push and pull between mercy and emotional exaction: “I find that I love her and want to flee. / Leaving is familiar,” she writes. Nevertheless, even in its small patterns of redundancy, the book is full of gems. “Psilocybin,” a poem that describes psychedelic experiences, is one such treasure. Down by the river, the speaker and her lover cry at the weight of the world’s palpability, of their own.

A slow undulation sets in,
its pulse warming the wet ground, and we lie
watching trees become hands holding everything
to the sky. I can smell my own sweat
and I’m weeping about my attempts to mask this scent.
You’re crying too, about how you hate your cunt
and I’m telling you Your everything is beautiful.

As simple as this exchange first appears, it is revolutionary in its expression of security. To cry over the scent of one’s sweat is to not be crying over broken systems (familial or political), or the inequities of existing in the world as a queer woman of color. It is as close to free as a world like ours allows the most marginalized to be—people mostly concerned with “the small things.” This miracle of sorts is appropriately textured as Hezekiah depicts an idyllic and sensual grassland, complete with lambs, berries, and clover.   

“Sound,” the final act of Stray Harbor, does its namesake justice. Here we have the roar of queer, stoned women marveling in their rejection of gender conformity, the screams and chokes of a child learning to drown so she may learn to swim, and the steady stream of water pouring down a hairdresser’s deep sink. The water motif that dominated the collection’s first section returns to wash us anew and hold space for pleasure. What was once a survivalist’s journey is now a dynamic example of how to grant ourselves permission, how to believe in our own fullness. There may be no better example of this than the sensual “Honing,” shown here in full.

Sprawled open, my v-wide thighs
held the faucet hostage
Awaiting the eruption I’d found
While filling myself,
bringing water deep
into my own brimmed vessel
beneath lips vast enough
to hold a fist, no—
a body newly mind
I gave myself to this, a bath
and time alone to bloom,
submerged in bubbles
my budded nipples piercing
the steam-filled room. Tight
breath muffled under
thunderous rushing, the water—
thrummed relentless
in the best way until
I spilled over, sinking
bicuspids into my bicep
into affirmation: yes this
A new kind of wholeness


& in Open, Marvel, Felicia Zamora’s aptly titled second book, makes a stunning argument for close examination, both in living and in language.[1] Indeed, it matters what we call a thing, and Zamora’s poetics, a wholly original lyric-science, manages to jargonize the sensations of the body without disavowing the beauty and horror of our inner workings. In the dead of winter, a setting we return to often in the collection, the mere thought of overhearing a blue jay’s song is enough to give our speaker goosebumps, to ignite the same synapses that fire indiscriminately when we’re kissed over and over again by a brisk wind or affectionate lover. As beings governed by our nervous systems, (a system that, as Zamora reminds us, thinks nothing of us,) we are indebted to its ability to take in the wonders of the world. & in Open, Marvel uses this bodily debt to upset our understanding of free will. In a predominantly white publishing landscape hell-bent on pigeonholing BIPOC writers into solely writing work that confirms their racist, implicit biases, it was inspiring to see a fellow female Latinx poet dare to believe her language has value beyond discussions of identity, inequity, and immigration. In this way, & in Open, Marvel stands as a powerful testimony to what Carl Phillips deemed “a politics of mere being.”

“A Long Road Never Takes Us,” the first poem in the collection, challenges the existing discourse on bodily autonomy.

Bug spray in my hair,
humming bird at the picnic table, the clouds
lulling under their transformative bellies—
there has always and never been this—
longing of a mind carried in a body
here. The sun touches my shoulder, old friends
gathering at one of the lake’s many mouths
luring all senses; caught. The wash of waves,
sectioned and small, so persistent: the body
functioning without my consent.

How do we reconcile living in the confinement of our bodies? The pain of experiencing with no choice in the matter? When no answers suffice, our speaker grounds herself in the activities of those around her, remaining hyper-attentive to the movements of their bodies. “An unknown / tune from the boy behind me. / Hums still as his grandfather baits his line; I might know / how, escapes him. Silence and toil. The ever sway / of small legs on a bench—reaching.” The task of living is deemed unavoidable, and we’re left to meditate on the paradox of wanting more.

“An instinct is a direction,” declares the speaker in “Before Winter,” a syntactically tight poem that showcases a more authoritative tone with its whip-like second-person imperatives. But before we’re met with instructions, we’re made aware that our obsession with naming is more about our need to hear ourselves name a thing. “What we call a season, because we must / call something up the throat, the epiglottis / vibrates above the slope of the tongue, / attached.” The lyric overture continues with a brief nod to our evolutionary beginnings, and then, after a breathtaking assault on the power we as humans feel entitled to wield, the poem ends with an awe-inducing “Understand, you will be let go.” Let go to where? Welcomely, to poems with even greater tenderness, though Zamora’s signature preoccupation with all things anatomical remains. In the quiet rapture of “I Hear the Blue Jay Singing,” the final poem in the first section, we revisit the topic of consent, specifically, the moment when we’re actually able to give it to our bodies. “…my eyes stuck in comprehension give bow.  & melody / taps at my eardrums.” What overcomes us? What do we allow to overcome us? “dance {dance} dance,” the second section in & in Open, Marvel, beckons with answers.

The qualms of living are bottomless, the fears bountiful. If we learn to accept this fate in “empty haunt; inlet” then “Still These Lovely Works Beyond Us” compounds this grief by revealing that our impermanence is just as sorrow-inducing as our lack of control. “And all lines blur. And all colors bleed: / simultaneous this awe and shame in my gut. We construct / out of unfinished, half equivocal.” There is an order to all things, yes. But who’s to say all order is recognizable? Language can both consume and displace us, and Zamora makes the argument that whatever the consequences of utilizing our language, we should not assume that we hold power over it. “What if we ran / out of alphabet? I hang U on the wall; forgot U in the move. Funny, / how ownership fails.” While the italicization of leading abstract concepts could appear heavy-handed anywhere else, the poem’s final gesture invites us to perceive them not as speech but rather as concepts we are taught by others; others who, by the nature of evoking this language, by falsely claiming ownership over it, have failed, too. “We action and reaction / without the why, and make use of our oblivious / nature seizes us, turns our chins to the side / saying, See …          just see.”

Who saves us from each other, from ourselves? Nature. We are asked to witness rather than to analyze. This is difficult for our speaker to accept, as someone enraptured with cataloguing every stray impulse. In fact, there’s no greater rebuttal to “Still These Lovely Works Beyond Us” than the showstopping “{Honest} Random {Caused by Desire to De-Categorize} Self.” A hefty prose poem that resists narrative and linear thought, it is an invitation to the inner sanctum of the speaker’s mind. “’When all else fails…’ I say to myself,” it begins. What follows are a series of poetic leaps that grow larger and more associative, and when Zamora reveals her hand in the final third of the poem, the metacommentary is truly remarkable.

What is in me is the truth. What is in the truth is me. What the mind tells
the body; what the body tells the mind; what the body tells the
body. Sticky lies on lips. {I taste my own fear of drowning.} Aren’t
we all: synchronicity? A stream of consciousness: then there’s this:
what’s wrong with tubing in the shallow bodies? {Very Midwestern:
tubing.} Always, a thing held in; a thing held back.

Being granted access to this intimate sense-making does not give us complete and total access to the whole of the mind’s burdens. And we are not alone in what feels like our inability to trace how we got to the shifting “here,” regardless of how rewarding the journey has been. “I don’t recall starting from anywhere; self help books tell me I’m lucky to be here. What / does lucky look like? Oh the alliterations roll now. Language: a / vestige I tote under my arms, in hopes the clouds pass. Language: I / burden you, then turn to you for redemption.”

Language functions as both sword and shield in “imbibe {et alia} here,” a single long poem and the penultimate section of & in Open, Marvel. Comprised of 32 elliptical and compact six-line stanzas, it forces a reader to confront their relationship to “difficulty” in poetry. Those looking for narrative handholding will be sorely disappointed as we are instead led to experience the music of it all, the openings of lyric and form. To put it simply, “imbibe {et alia} here” is not meant to be solvable. Are there grounding sensorial threads? Of course—Zamora is a poet in love with texture, one uninterested in leaving an audience in total darkness. What results is a charged meditation ripe with the imagery of birth, portals, and hypnotizing decay. Are we to speculate on whether an abortion or miscarriage has taken place? This is beside the point. We are umbilically tethered to the Zamora’s subtleties and, as the final vignette declares, we walk away open, changed, and shut.

Once the empty heavies
{     }
{     }
Crawl back to midnight: fluid and collagen-rich
{     }
Sewn up inside you, now.

If & in Open, Marvel is a book of cycles and dichotomies, then it is no wonder that it finishes with a body learning to “contort, reshape” and accept. The lyric-science and jargon of the first half of the book mellows to a more tangible lyric. We emerge hungry from the cocoon of “imbibe {et alia} here.” What feeds us is a return to the heart, to the warmth of the sun and the earth. The awe looks different but a return to the natural world in “Blue Jays in The Yard,” the final poem in the collection, shows us just how far our consciousness has been pushed.


Expansive in its exploration of faith and systems, Christopher Kondrich’s Valuing approaches awe from the very intersection of fear and wonder. One could argue that the potential for rendering a world from this point of convergence is dangerously limitless, but Kondrich delivers a collection that is at times humorous in its breathlessness (he’s no stranger to a “long” poem) and unapologetically erudite. Never before have I read a book quite like this, and though I don’t imagine myself a member of its target audience, I was floored by Kondrich’s ability to seamlessly meld distinct romanticism with larger investigations of human reason and logic-making. “We determine the value of a thing / by how much we owe to those who remove it,” concludes an ekphrastic sonnet inspired by Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, one of a series. This kind of profundity is commonplace in Valuing, though the collection is not without its riddles. Where one poem might establish a secular confession booth for both speaker and reader, the next will drown that same space in clever wordplay or considerable psychic distance. What breaks through is a sincere inquiry into the economic attachments that complicate love. 

“Asylum,” the collection’s moving frontispiece, establishes that our choices are a just criterion for self-identification. 

I choose to love this table
where I lie, the instruments that tell me
what I am made of. I am made
of things I love: the onlookers
peering over, trying to find some
what of them, maybe a gem or pencil
they once held.

As the poem continues, one might recognize echoes of Robert Hayden’s “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?” in the following:

I choose to love our auspices
because they brought us here, to love
disobedience because it shows the freedom
to love or not love. Or value. I choose
to value. I choose to love
as asylum from that which presses me
to hate.

For Kondrich, love cannot clock in and out without our permission, without our doing so first. Love can only become haven through our commitments to leveling and constructing it—by choosing love as the primary lens through which we envision a world worth replicating. Valuing soon makes the case that measurements of “worth,” in turn, are harmful subscriptions to the plentiful failures of late capitalism.

While questions about how we determine merit circle overhead, Kondrich extends a hand to his readers with a direct address. “It is alright. You may dwell in me,” begins “Dwelling.” This kind of permission-granting will feel especially affirming for readers who lack confidence in their knowledge of the capitalist theory of value. But make no mistake, there’s plenty to latch onto otherwise. “And though I have no holdings, / you may increase your stock in me; / you may reserve the right to vessel.” The playing field is leveled—we are both without, and this understanding establishes a sense of trustworthiness that works to Kondrich’s advantage.

The short first section continues to circumnavigate the increasing elusivity of genuine enlightenment. The poem “Geometry of Echo,” one of the strongest in the collection, encapsulates this rather succinctly:

To own nothing is to see
the meaning in it.
The meaning that nothing provides.
Though if nothing has
a meaning, it is that it does things
nothing else can.
Nothing works that way.
I take comfort in this,
and then sell it.

The definitive articulation of Kondrich’s primarily endstopped couplets showcases a confidence that is welcomingly challenged by the collection’s more personal poems. The second section of Valuing provides these in spades as we witness the complex dynamic between our speaker and a singular “you.”  “Mountains are made so that things fall off. / When I fell at your feet you weren’t there,” writes Kondrich in “Degree of Nothing.” This palpable shift in power from speaker as expert to speaker as sufferer causes us to question the speaker’s trustworthiness as predicated in the collection’s first few poems. The speaker’s “worthiness,” so to speak, is now being determined by another—a shift that humbles as it reverberates. “I wasn’t going to listen to my voice, / but then I thought maybe it was yours. / Maybe the front of this building is the side I’m on.” What was once distressing has escalated into near-tragedy, and the implications of suicidal ideation alongside the work of self-evaluation deliver a gut-wrenching blow.

Whether placed to temper the heights of the previous poem’s vulnerability, or as a subtle marker towards other sensitive rabbit holes, “Previously Forgotten,” immediately reorients us in structure and style. At three full pages of text, the poem doesn’t hold back in its critiques of “academic obliques,” though Kondrich utilizes the very tools of argument he works to criticize. This technique, while clearly intentional, proves unsuccessful in gestures that would appear more at home in a dissertation on academic publishing than in an ars poetica. To put it simply, “Previously Forgotten” pontificates where it should evoke. Once we encounter “Peace Epic,” the final poem in the same section, it’s hard not to wish the former took after the latter:

We can trace our arms back to intention. To being. Arms
make our hands legible. Read them. Tell me what they have
done. To make us hold them. First, material. History woven
from the plural. Then the strands that cross over, cross over.
Into another category. Into an object. The part in the city’s hair.
Is parted by a body left to move. To be parted with.

The clipped syntax maintains a lulling quality, perhaps due to the size of the white space between lines and the music of repetition. What results is a rewarding rumination on origin, futility, and morality, a poem that invites us to breath with it, instead of detaching from our previously held investments.

Led by the “Black Paintings” sonnets, the collection is at its lyrical best in its third section, with weighty poetic declarations and surprising figurative language. “The sentence describing violence has no words,” Kondrich writes in response to Goya’s Fight with Cudgels. If previous poems brought to mind Ben Lerner’s Angle of Yaw, these poems recall the quiet fortitude of Malachi Black’s A Storm Toward Morning.  What’s especially rewarding about these poems is the seamlessness with which they’re ordered, how larger structural decisions intensify their self-referential qualities. The final ekphrastic sonnet ends “This mouth could yawn / open, could be a cave for the song that travels / by wind to hollow out the face. / But let it, Chris. / You have to let it.” “Rejoinder,” the very next poem, begins “There have been physical impediments to forsaking my name.” This implicated self is a self that acknowledges hope on the other side of disappointment. The poem continues, “My head is still here and I’m faithful to it,” and the exactness of this awareness reads like a recognition of the collections’ headiest moments. This section’s final poem, “[Your Words Trail Off above Me into Radial Space]” exemplifies its romantic leanings.

Your words trail off above me into radial space
the same on the left as it is
in your hair
my head held out before me
a lantern
my hands also lanterns
carried by reflection into trees
I sit beneath

The contemplation here is markedly different—there’s a lightness of being, a sense of atmospheric marvel. “I must live outright” the poem continues, and in the final act of Valuing, we understand that to mean a life led in full acknowledgement of death. To move forward there can be no pretense of shyness or reversal. It is here that our speaker exclaims “I am desperate to die. I start by surviving.” And it is here that Kondrich’s last words are reserved for who he values most.

They (sentences) have architecture for conversion.
If I wanted to believe in burning beacons, I would say so.
I would wait for those who know what beacons signify:
alone. Let me eat no more, nor find you as beautiful
as the day we were married. You make it more difficult,
more like staying when I know I have to fade.

[1]    Zamora is a contributing editor of this magazine. The editors had no part in the selection of this book for review.

Leslie Sainz’s poems appear in Kenyon Review Online, Narrative Magazine, AGNI, jubilat, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2021 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, and lives and writes in Miami, Florida.