Skaidrite Stelzer, Digging a Moose from the Snow. Finishing Line Press, 2021. $14.99 U.S. 38 pages, paperback. ISBN: 978-1646624553
Reviewed by Tija Spitsberg
In the poetry collection Digging a Moose from the Snow by Skaidrite Stelzer, the speaker ultimately draws the conclusion that we are all animals participating in shaping our shared landscape and seeking solutions to secure our survival. The opening poem serves as a preamble introducing the speaker of the poems by recalling a warning she receives from the “Pirushke lady” – a wise old sage who predicts the “fatal decline, spiraling toward death...In a few years your arches will fall/your feet grow hooved/toes become turtles/your husband will leave.”
What follows is a series of poems, each describing the trajectory from birth to death, linking our demise to the universal experience of all creatures; but there are glimmers of hope, especially for our children who approach the world with optimism. In “Cicada Shells,” “the granddaughters string them into long necklaces before they learn their fear of bugs, predicting the inevitable end of innocence.” The closing poem, “The First to Die,” suggests that we are losing the battle, yet also clings to possible redemption in the next generation, our children. “The forest now a pile of tender sticks/All color lost, white bone beneath the sea/Still children look for stars within the rifts/The first to die will be the coral reef.” This, however, is undercut by the final line, dictated by its form, the Villanelle, where the repetition of the final line is determined by its form: “The first to die will be the coral reef.”
Death comes to all of us, but we struggle to evade and delay its reality. In the title poem “Digging a moose from the snow” the struggle for survival is explored through the personification of the moose who “now knows we are animal/surviving/all of us/as best we can.” A “moose in a snowbank” emerges as the central symbol for our struggle to survive. This image solidifies the position the speaker of the poem takes in regard to the human condition: “the world is cruel/a world that will kill us (it’s true.)” But like the moose, “we must move against the snow banks/dig deeper than we believe…surviving all of us as best we can.”
These poems contemplate death and loss, as well as displacement and the salvation and pain of memory. Stelzer nimbly navigates this terrain as she explores these challenges through the use of fantasy, humor and sudden bursts of surrealism to deftly explore the natural world.
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