115.1: Maureen Alsop:: Ilex Road & Alnus Road & Sali Lucida Road & Cratae Road & Quercus Road & Betula Road & Aucupari & Fraxinus & Hamamelis Road & Hedera Road 115

Five of the roads Maureen Alsop writes of in this poem-series run parallel to the streets she chooses to explore; they are just a line on the map another block over, tree-lined streets we can’t see from where we are on our own tree-lined street. There’s no backtracking to take another road and see what we missed. Thankfully for us as readers, however, we’re able to turn around and around inside these poems, but the sense that there will always be something running alongside them that we can’t fully apprehend is likely to remain.

Alsop creates a world reminiscent of that in Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns, a world that seems to exist in multiple times at once, manipulating elements of myth and mysticism, the natural world, and modern day totems (roadside motels, Ziplock as a verb). Alsop’s roads create a lush, natural texture—the sculpted pattern and sting of a holly leaf and its equally abrasive Latin name, ilex. The result is a world that is disorienting. It requires total buy-in without total understanding. One could spend a significant amount of time researching the religious allusions, the way witch-hazel (Hamamelis) bursts open to throw its seeds with extraordinary force, but there is something to be said for not knowing everything: there are two more roads yet we’ve got to turn down. S. Whitney Holmes

Ilex Road

We drank behind the barn
which came with its own sky.
We drank until elegies bore
You turned your eyes into the
or maybe it was milkweed.

Alnus Road

A variable tumescent held the gate open to a plasticized universe without petticoats.
Anger parched reflections upon cigar box. Named after gunpowder. My horse-
tongue ruby. O, my horse-tongue.

Betula Road

A small green patch in the gravel where our lady of moss now gives

brodieas an auric scar. O, forgive us. We don’t mourn the loss of water deep enough
to be medicinal—

The seer hides in steeplebush, casts us into sparrow stasis. Until we are banished by
yarrow’s yellow umbel. We wanted

                                         to go back to the dominion of angels.
                                         We each mapped etiquette’s extremes,
                                         then went forward uncensored.

                                         Without you

                                         there was that other place. The soul

                                         its crawlspace traced with lavender.

Hamamelis Road

Muriel followed my grandmother
from hill to hill, spitting wide her amethyst hair.

Calcium emptied all through cornfields. Her seersucker dress
stopped among calculated rows of pigeonweed. I wanted to kiss her.

Hedera Road

The horse returned. Miasma between doorways, time
beyond the sun. This wasn’t the first god. Just as, in the century’s last pages,
night herons returned, milk oiled, dusted in the cinnamon surface of seed. Consider
here the deity who marveled. The one

who traveled through mirrors to capture
the size of death, the curve of it inside the physical
fear of men. John,
she’d say, the body is coming
. All

through the house sibyls chattered—given
reason to translate birdsong so that you might recognize her voice within
the mimicry of church bells,

her syntax, that rusted key
Ziplocked in saltjar, would open the sonnet, but you
were lawless. Without convention, you reminded
her of heaven. This

is where you started. Where you felt it. Most days it was so

simple to love, and to give everything but—
neon vacancy signs, pools
of candy-light, inlets of roadside motels, like a hidden
curiosity for the obsolete—love.