Dances in Straw with a Two-Headed Calf is a much more harder-hitting collection than Roberts' first, To Hide in the Light. Many of the poems are concerned with living as a failed romantic in the world, or always on the dicey edge of bitterness, but fighting for life against it. Some poems in this collections pull the reader into the poet's sacred appreciation of life--all life--and into the romantic light that she shines only briefly. The ultimate feeling of Dances in Straw may lie somewhere between "Life Is a Hard Proposition at Best" and transforming moments of newness, sight, and inspiration. The last section of the book, "Lazarus Heart," relates the poet's encounter with death in 2001, in which she suffered "cardiac death" six times in one day. Poet Tony Moffeit perhaps best describes this section of the book, which Roberts added at the last moment to the collection, as "an astonishing stalking of the self." "Lazarus Heart"--which is not intended to be religious--is about life, ultimately, not death, and contains the same themes and images of the overall collection--anxiety that shrinks and hope that expands; the human hunger for love and the fear of the impossibility of love; the necessity to hide oneself in the world and the desire to reveal oneself openly.
Bonnie gives an overview of the book:
From "I Am Many Bad Things, But I Am Not Cold"
"If I had not been hot,/I would have sunk to the bottom of the tar pit/and stayed. . . .
I am unfaithful,/hiding behind a shanty with tar paper, tacked,/spreading myself rough and tearable/against those decomposing walls I cannot defend,/the smell of kerosene, from an irate mob of cheated people,/choking me in the dark. . . .
Though I am a deceiver,/who covers the path where honest grass once grew,/I cleave to the soles of burning men,/women who walk,/shoeless children,/ailing trees;/I hold to every waterless wall and fractured window,/a priestess of the pit, a bonded mother,/a shaman to gaps, a bubbling ghost. . . .
If you are not as strong, seek shade in another's arms/or ride a white highway to cool your hair./Where I am, there are sins of pitch/and overwhelming odors/of blistering faith. . . ."
I sent the manuscript for this collection to the publisher of my first
book perhaps prematurely. It took three years, actually, for me to
regain my sense of "self," Also, I wrote "Lazarus Heart" with only
half (or less) of a brain. The cardiologists who had brought me back
and implanted a pacer-defibrillator had told my family that I would most
likely die; and, if I lived, I would be a mental vegetable. (And some days, I
felt that way.) I had overheard an intern in ICU say that my heart was
so damaged I "might" have two years, at best, to live. I, therefore, had a great sense of urgency about submitting the collection for publication. Even though I proved the intern wrong, and am still at least "mostly alive" in 2011, I do wish I had taken more time with this collection.
It did seem at that time that the floor might open and swallow me up at
any moment. My actual memories of death were peaceful and about a
letting go of the ego, and I didn't want to return to this world. What I
wrote about my dying experience had to do with the whole process of
becoming "someone else" while my brain was mending, re-learning my
world, experiencing confusion and fear before I did re-awaken finally.
Some of the "Heart" poems came from dreams, some from flashes of images
that would later expand into full memories.
Both my parents were teachers, who met at the University of AL. My mother eventually taught 2nd-grade reading; my father taught math, history, and political science. To improve his income, he later became a seller of insurance, not something he liked, but it met the needs...
". . . The human voice, as well as the voices of bears, wind, and waves, are at one with an animate universe, and when we are alive in and to the world we inhabit, we enter into a loving relationship with...
"I think dirt is the reason I have spent my whole life in the South," offers Huntsville, Alabama poet, Bonnie Roberts, whose poem "Take Me Down That Row One More Time, Green-Eyed Boy...