When I was a child,
Moving scared me; every time
I located my life, it wandered away once
These words from Susan Kinsolving’s poem “In Preparation” from her 1999 collection Dailies & Rushes can be instantly understood by anyone who had a nomadic childhood. As I’ve written about before, we moved a lot when I was a kid. My older sister, especially, often felt displaced, and I can imagine her echoing the feeling expressed in Kinsolving’s poem. Moving had the opposite effect on me. I never acquired much attachment to a sense of home. It didn’t scare me to move; it was all I knew. Still, looking back now decades later, these words do ring true for me retroactively. I can look back and see how my sense of self was impacted in good and bad ways by the curious manner in which we grew up.
Dailies & Rushes has plenty of these moments of recognition, lines in which Kinsolving perfectly encapsulated an elusive emotion or experience. In “Sotto Voce,” she expresses in lonely ache of not being experiencing regular human touch:
No one has touched me for months, maybe not it is
years. When a mere cashier touches my hand, placing change
in my palm, my heart leaps, a small sissonne of spirit.
In “Happenstance,” she describes the mingled fear and hope every parent knows:
Amid the daily news
of armies, viruses, and madmen, I act casual
fearing that my children are my prayers
The minute attention she pays to these interstitial moments is referenced directly in the opening poem of the book—”The Gift”—in which she relates a childhood birthday or Christmas in which she had excitedly asked for a gift, but upon receiving what she asked for, realized she had named the wrong thing. She wanted a microscope, and had asked for a magnifying glass. She uses this as an image for her experience as a poet, concludes the poem with these lines:
But the word hid
elsewhere, almost disguised, as glass
might be an illusion of clarity. And so
it’s been in all my words and hopes:
poems, the elusive gift, the microscope.
Kinsolving shows a similar deft touch in describing nature. An early section of the book deals with the desolate beauty of nature, and a later series offers odes to flowers. These poems show the subtle knack for detail and found beauty that characterize the collection as a whole.