The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Microreview: What stills my mind, Mimi White

Rachael Conlin Levy

Mimi White’s poems quiet me. It is their collective voice, and not one in particular but all of them, meditating on love at midlife, love that is charred and warped by experiences, a love that one falls out of and then back into despite its fires, that soothes me now.

I have bought her slim volume of poems “The Last Island,” (public library) twice. The first copy I misplaced somewhere in the house and could not find it despite a fine combing through of the bookshelves. Since I had not finished reading it and wanted to, I bought a second copy. It does not disappoint.

She studied his palm: an open box,
opalescent pearls, blue flames.
Ah, the thumb print on her nipple.
He balances the moon on his tongue.

White’s poems explore the gifts and grief found in a landscape of intimacy, according to poet Mckeel McBride. Tenderly, White examines how love blurs the self so it is lost. Within the poems sits a silence that I find familiar, a muteness like that which greets me as I open the door to a home temporarily vacant of children.

She watches a house burn.
This is the loss of language.
She cannot name what was hers:
a cotton dress, a mirror, a comb.

But don’t misunderstand me. “The Last Island” is not melancholic, but deepens my appreciation for love and its hazardous, yet rewarding, terrain, as described by poet Baron Wormser. As the ropes of responsibility for my children, which have encircled my life for fifteen years, begin to loosen ever so slightly, these poems comfort me where I am right now, alone and adrift.

But what stills my mind
Is what I know:
A pocket of feathers,
An assemblage of song,
And when there is no love
Left to extinguish,
The sky.

The new solitude grants me time and freedom to write that I have not had, permitting me to begin at midlife, a similarity with White’s own path to publishing that I find heartening. She had published two chapbooks, one of which was selected for a poetry prize, and she was poet laureate of Portsmouth, New Hampshire from 2005 to 2007, but still she waited more than thirty years to see a full-length collection of her poems in print, according to a 2008 review in the Christian Science Monitor.

“She almost broke the first-book barrier several times, but as the years passed, White also reconsidered her expectations about what poetry could give her,” wrote reviewer Elizabeth Lund.

The article does not delve further into this reconsideration of a goal, of what and how success is defined. I wish it had for I paused in reading it to consider my own expectations, not just for writing, but for what it meant to love the same man for eighteen years, and to watch as my children develop singular lives.

“I got in trouble,” my kindergartner shared as we walked home after the first day of school.

“Oh, what happened?”

“I don’t want to tell you.”

He laughed, and he didn’t tell.

What private darkness hides within my heart? Two-thirds of the way through White’s collection is a poem where one lover wounds another, and it contains a beautiful metaphor about tapping into a heart like when someone taps a maple in spring to let the “sweetness run free.”

And with her hands
she drilled a small hole in his heart, tiniest
of openings for the world to slip in.

I am comfortable not knowing my children’s secrets. I am grateful to have married a man I am still in love with most of the time. I am curious what will happen now that the middle of my days at midlife are suddenly my own.


My Friend Brings Me a Cedar Waxwing to Release into the Orchard
by Mimi White, “The Last Island”

Inside the white box
the bird bats her body
against the cardboard sides.

This is how you still her.
My friend cups her hands around imaginary softness.
Like this, she says,
and lifts her closed palms.
I do not know the name for this gesture.
I do know its formal desire
hinges on the music of the wrist.

It is almost spring.
We sit in that brief time,
when afternoon leans agains the light.
Rain turns to snow and back again.
Thick black buds are shining.

The bird’s wings flap.
I measure her fierceness
against the room’s silence.

My sweetheart is hiking in snow;
I think it is the only language
he knows: white breath
on the skin. I write love letters
with my finger on the sky.

Inside the white box
the bird dreams an eye,
then a beak, then a wing.
Word by word
she sets herself free.

11 responses to “Microreview: What stills my mind, Mimi White”

  1. Andrea says:

    Lovely. I had not read any Mimi White, but love it. Enjoy those quiet mid-days you have now!

  2. Somehow this has me crying, but just a little bit, and in a good way. I’ll be reading more Mimi and more Rachael.

  3. Rachael says:

    Andrea and Denise, thank you. I strongly recommend Mimi White. When I reordered “The Last Island,” I also bought her new book, “Memory Won’t Save Me,” which is a haibun or alternating haiku and prose. I’m looking forward to opening it.

  4. mimi white says:

    I am grateful and awed that someone took the time to review my book, The Last Island and bought it twice. Truly, I never think anyone other than friends and family read or like my work. But this reviewer brought the poems back to me. How amazing. Thank you thank you thank you—by the way, the book won the 2009 Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Poetry. I love Jane Kenyon’s work and miss her presence in this world.

  5. Rachael says:

    Mimi, I’ve not read Jane Kenyon but am intrigued now. Thanks for visiting; it’s an honor.

  6. mimi white says:

    you will not be disappointed–Jane Kenon died when she was 47 so young and in her prime as they say, yet she had an old soul so her prime to me was ageless. She was married to Donald Hall– Thank you again. If you live in New England I would be happy to come to your town and give a reading. Mimi

  7. Rachael says:

    Sadly, I live in Seattle, but should you ever travel to this coast …

  8. I was wandering around a very small bookstore in Portsmouth, NH yesterday and picked up a book by Mimi White titled Memory Won’t Save Me. I flipped through the pages and thought, yes. I bought it. Last night I was thinking, wait…didn’t Rachael mention this book on her blog? So I did a search and here it is, your mention. It seems to have stuck with me. Thanks, Rachael (and Mimi).

    Also, I read Constance by Jane Kenyon about a year ago. It was a lucky library find I thoroughly enjoyed.

  9. Rachael says:

    I read “Memory Won’t Save Me” a few weeks ago. Beautiful and raw. I loved how the haiku wove in and out of the narrative. Let me know what you think.

  10. mimi white says:

    Ok. Next time I am in your neighborhood I will give you a head’s up. I traveled extensively out there when one of my daughters lived in Portland Or. I was interviewed on a local TV station in Hopkinton, MA. When the show goes live on line I will send it to you. I talk about both books, The Last Island and Memory Won’t Save Me.

    Thanks to you others know about my work! Denise, I hope you like it. Yes it is raw–the haiku small places to breathe and catch your breath.

  11. mimi white says:

    I just reread these comments now in 2023…pandemic era lives. How do the poems written back in 2014 sound different than the newer ones.I have a new book The Arc Remains, Deerbrook Editions. They are still prepandemic poems. I am gathering small 9 line poems I have coined Nonagons. Maybe one day they will appear as a small chapbook or in a longer book as a small section. Write back! All best and warm wishes. Mimi White

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