The Glass Tree
In her third poetry collection, The Glass Tree, Laura Davies Foley achieves a faultless marriage of the personal and universal. Foley shares her grief over her husband’s death, her pleasure in her children, and the personal rewards of her poetry work in descriptions that are short and spare. Most are no longer than a page. What the pieces don’t give up by being so restrained is a richness that comes from the poet’s keen observational eye.
In “Slow Loss,” Foley recounts her husband’s declining health: “his mind weakens first, / letting go of facts, numbers // vanishing in the brain’s haze … // Not for years does the body follow, / gleefully sprouting tumors, cancer.” The language is crisp and succinct, and the brief poem of three stanzas is like a sped-up time-lapse video of moving toward life’s end. Anyone can relate, either through experience or anticipation.
Foley excels at creating relatable snapshots of her unique situation. In the narrative poem “Autism,” she writes about her daughter, who wakes in the middle of the night wailing. Foley, half asleep, soothes her with the lovely suggestion to “Get the / dog … Put your fingers through her fur … Sail on her back.” After a second interruption, Foley dives back into sleep, “down to where lily fronds sway and children, if there are / any, are easy to love.” Foley’s description of a parent’s unconditional love is crystal clear.
Some poems address Foley’s work as a hospital chaplain giving comfort to patients and families. She beautifully describes the sick and dying as “undersea creatures” attached to breathing tubes and beeping, whirring machines. Her language paints complicated pictures with a seemingly paradoxical simplicity.
Perhaps the most intriguing poem is “Homelessness Retreat,” in which the poet spends three nights sleeping on the streets with strangers and with no money or change of clothes, and not even a toothbrush. At three pages, this is a longer piece than Foley’s others, and it powerfully describes homelessness with bravery and compassion—not romanticizing the situation, but honoring it.
The Glass Tree was a finalist for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. Foley’s previous books, both published in 2007, are Syringa and Mapping the Fourth Dimension. Her work has been published in several journals, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships, including the Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest Grand Prize.
Interestingly, Foley has also worked with prisoners on the art of meditation. In her poem “In Concord Prison,” a prisoner, Kevin, notices a bud on a tree in winter, something only he can see from his vantage point of a “narrow window / too small to crawl from.” This piece gives ownership to Kevin of something that cannot be taken away from him, as his freedom has been. It gives him dignity.
That is what Foley’s poems do. They take ownership of feelings—anguish, adoration, frustration, joy, serenity—and give dignity to the dying, the impaired, the homeless, the imprisoned. With this collection, Foley shows that poetry really does have the power to set us free.
March 22, 2013
"Laura Foley’s poetry reminds me of Louise Gluck’s in its effective use of statement and deceptively plain-seeming speech, and of Kevin Goodan’s poetry in its use of nature and in its sincerity… It’s refreshing and wonderful to read poetry that isn’t all about irony…Foley’s poems are honest, patient and full of yearning, grateful and accepting, discomfiting and comforting, all at once, and her use of imagery beautifully moving and accurate. These are words that, to paraphrase Jane Austen, pierce the soul—they are half agony, half hope."
April Ossmann, Author of Anxious Music, former Editor at Alice James Books
Let the April rains come in.
I am a sloping hill with new buds piercing.
So opens one of the poems in MAPPING THE FOURTH DIMENSION, the 2006 collection from Laura Davies Foley. And it's one of the gentler openings in the book, but it heads toward the final lines:
I have no skin.
My hair is gone.
The candle within draws deeper.
And that solemnity, that willingness to paint loss in its sorrows as well as its potential, rings with honesty. Wherever or whenever we'll have the chance to meet and hold our dead again, the time between now and then hurts. Foley says goodbye and "I miss you" repeatedly in this collection.
Yet each poem is as different from the others as one face is from the faces around us. The poem "Exiled," for instance, proclaims absence -- then paces through walking by a lake or through winter, and at last into summer:
And in this walking,
this movement away, I came to a clearing
and received the clearing light,
the clouds moving apart, and you,
like a footprint
filling now with sand,
and the wide shore stretching on.
It fascinates me that Foley's second collection, SYRINGA, published in 2007, seems to have overlapped the first collection in gestation time -- each book mentions the other. But SYRINGA, springing from contemplation of a wounded waterbird and from a parallel contemplation of self and spirit, gathers light in great, sweet-scented armfuls and proclaims joy and blessing from these roots. Consider "A Day":
I was watching the geese sleeping.
I was watching the one
with the broken wing.
The serene one, floating in her painful knowledge.
As Foley leads the lines through patterns and shifting light, she resolves the poem with:
The ordinary is always like that.
Always ready to reveal itself
as something other.
But it isn't other.
It's just the ordinary.
And isn't that
the extraordinary thing we come to know?
In SYRINGA there waits also the sea at dusk; a five-year-old child diving; a solstice sparrow; and moments from hospice caring. The lines are generally short, the poems a page more or less, and the images unforgettable.
Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books
I received your book and kept turning pages, turning pages, reading. I'll definitely use it with Writing and the Creative Process (PSU course) second semester. Wow!
Professor Lynn Chong, Plymouth State University
Mary Rees titled her book on Dhamma, BEING PRAYER. Thich Nhat Hanh equates mindfulness with the holy ghost. Mary Oliver writes: "I don't know exactly what a prayer is, I do know how to pay attention." That's what Laura Davies Foley's poems do. They pay attention.
The poems themselves "relax and attend." They free the spirit into resiliency and breath. In so doing, certainly for their creator and potentially for their readers, the poems have the power to heal broken wings and teach them to fly.
In reading the poems in Syringa you might even feel, as Paul McCartney wrote so long ago: "All my life, I've been only waiting for this moment to arrive."
Doreen Schweizer, Guiding Teacher, Valley Insight Meditation Society
We LOVE your book of poems, Syringa.
What a wonderful poet you are! You totally speak to me!!
Annie B Bond Executive Producer, Care2 Healthy Living, Author of Home Enlightenment
Any person who has ever loved and lost and who continues to seek wholeness and peace needs Syringa on their bedside table. Thank you for sharing your path and your heart with us.
"My hand reaches through the spaces to touch/ the ones who are not there," writes Laura Davies Foley in the title poem of this collection. These poems are eloquent about loss and silence. How does the world look once we realize it will never again be the world we want? Laura Davies Foley's poems ask that question again and again and give us the answers of a lifetime.
--Will Walker, author of Carrying Water
"In this collection of poetry, Mapping the Fourth Dimension, Laura Davies Foley meditates upon the death of a significant love with poems that are dreamy and ecstatic. Fused with the terrible knowledge that comes only with direct experience she writes: "I knew then what Dido must haveknown at her fiery end." Using direct plain language she invites the reader into her world of loss, which is simultaneously, a world suffused with hope."
--Jackson Wheeler, Founder of The Ventura Poetry Festival, Former co-editor of Solo, author of Swimming Past Iceland and contributor to A Near Country: Poems of Loss.