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Imagery related to Dordal’s childhood home (and domiciles in general) is prevalent throughout the 29 poems, making a fitting metaphor to describe the reading experience, which is similar to walking through an old familiar house, turning on the lights in each room, and letting the memories wash over you. A line from Dordal’s “Ars Poetica” embraces the symbolism of home and speaks volumes about her life growing up with a parent who kept secrets: “So many rooms were closed off before we knew they were there.” Featuring comparable household imagery, the beginning lines of “My Mother Is a Peaceful Ghost” are both nostalgic and heart-rending, as the poet remembers her mother and her struggles with alcoholism: “In my dreams my mother keeps walking out of the kitchen singing / You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. / She never sings past the first verse. / Last night, I dreamed I was back at the house—every light on when I arrived. My mother, forgetting / she was dead, smiled, said she was fine, everything / was fine.” In “My Mother, Arriving,” Dordal’s effort to come to terms with her loved one’s death—even after her own father had moved on and gotten remarried—is exemplified as she watches an old home movie on a projector of her mother walking toward the family home: “My mother, arriving. My mother, leaving. / My mother, not going away.” In “My Mother Speaks to Me,” the poet inadvertently describes this collection perfectly: “A friend tells me I write / ‘mother poems’ / not poems about love / or death, but I don’t know / the difference.”

The poems about Dordal’s revelations regarding structural racism are also highlights. In “Primer,” for example, the poet, as a young girl with a “white imagination,” reads Pippi Longstocking stories and doesn’t understand the wrongness of Pippi’s father being “king of the Negroes” or the girl painting her face black. Even more profoundly moving is “Housekeeper,” in which Dordal can’t remember the last name of a housekeeper who not only cleaned the house and cooked for the poet’s clan, but attended family graduations and weddings as well: “I saw her. / I didn’t see her.” Yet arguably the most unforgettable selection is “Welcome,” a powerhouse of a poem that will resonate with the audience long after the reading experience is over. In the piece, Dordal is staying in a hotel room and listening to the welcome channel on the television. During the historic 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. (“This Pussy Fights Back. No Ban, No Wall”), where hundreds of thousands were protesting in the streets, a pretty woman on the hotel’s channel—who reminded the poet of her mother—warned to keep the doors and windows locked and to never invite strangers into the room. The similarity to Dordal’s mother, combined with the political chaos outside the hotel, triggered very specific and disturbing memories: “Be alert, the woman says. As alert / as you are at home. Nice story, she said.”

10 recommended
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