Paula Marie Coomer is a nurse and writer who uses poems as balm. Her latest collection of poetry Nurses Who Love English gives a diverse coalescence of lyric story and song: a soundtrack to a personal history that traces American landscapes of ghosts, rivers, mountains, healers, wanderers and the divine. The language in these poems feels authentic, giving the sense of passing through forest roads and being let into secrets near campfires, in fields and in diners.
The poems range stylistically from couplets to syllabics to found poems, all containing imagery of earth, dream, memory, presence and desire. Coomer’s use of the prose poem is notably musical and enchanting:
“He carves us pitch for better spark and hotter kindling to knit old times with folks he doesn’t even know. The fire keeps you and I tippling Glenlivet and telling serendipity tales long after he drives into the October dim.
Brook trout with strawberry bellies, fins dipped white-edged, trimmed like frosting, leave Strawberry Lake by the scores to spawn, thick enough to walk across the fingers of the delta. I think it’s a miracle and accuse you: you led us here because humans need to see miracles now and again.” – from“Strawberry Lake’s Photo Album”
One of the most compelling aspects of Coomer’s poetry is the surprising and spiritual glimpses into human relationships.
Nurses Who Love English offers current social commentary, like in “Polar Bear SOS,” which gives stark and realistic visions of polar bears drowning in the melting polar icecap, and in “A New Poetry,” where the luck of a few people is juxtaposed with the destruction of others, and the raven’s song has the final say. While using art to imitate the life of now, Nurses Who Love English keeps hold of a well-rooted foundation capable of transforming the heartbreak of loss and war with beauty and love.
The book showcases other types of transformation as well. In “On Leaving Home” the narrator describes boldly breaking free of her Indiana homeland at a young age, and how the place “never said, daughter, why don’t you/come on home, now, you hear? It just let me/go. It let me take my satchel and book bag/and follow the creek out of the woods, down/and out of my holler.” Here the narrator recognizes the need to spread her wings in order to survive, yet she is pulled by a telepathic message from her Aunt Imogene, “Smart girls don’t drill holes in the water bucket.” The poem ends. Such unsentimental telling is a Paula Marie Coomer signature, seen also in the Americana traveling poem that comprises her chapbook Road.
Coomer’s poems show us how to meld into our surroundings, which in turn become us, and give us the wisdom to love trees, sip water straight from the well, and listen to birds give blessings, “Safe journey earth daughter.”
Review by Lisa Panepinto
Originally published at: cabildoquarterly.tumblr.com