I’m still slowly catching up on some of the books I’d gotten earlier this fall, especially the flurry of titles that seemed to arrive in the midst of this year’s Fall for the Book festival — books across a variety of genres, several of them by friends, including Two Minutes of Light, the first poetry collection from Nancy Pearson, who graduated from George Mason’s MFA program a year before me. The collection is often a dark one — addiction and suicide are among the central themes — but as the title suggests, there is light here too. “It is a harrowing, hard-fought project,” poet Kim Addonizio wrote about the collection. “As one poem asks, ‘By what small margins do we survive?'” Pearson’s poetry on the whole seeks to answer that question.
Here’s a quick sample that seems to work in a the opposite direction: a poem that initially seems lighter in tone but that ultimately finds shadows creeping in around the edges. While many of the poems in Two Minutes of Light originally appeared in journals including Black Warrior Review, Folio, Hayden’s Ferry, The Iowa Review, and others, “Family Reunion” is new to the collection. It caught my own eye because of the Southern setting.
By Nancy Pearson
I am waiting in line, crazy with the deep south
smorgasbord delirium of chicken and biscuits and greens.
The kids go: you’re it.
No you’re it.
No you’re it.
No you are.
My cousin Sean goes out the back door with the trash.
Those furious bees in the rib sauce.
Tired old chain-link fence, the dog brings over a shoe.
Inside everyone is dying in increments.
My aunt mumbles out the window,
faggots ain’t welcome here. Sean draws a circle in the clay,
smacks his head. The dog rubs her ass on the concrete.
In the house a hot smell rises
from something old and slowly opening —
Horse flies, mesmerized, blow in.