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Poetry Review: Wild Mercy

© Elizabeth Cunningham. All rights reserved.

Everything I know about life and death
I learned from leaves:
their iridescent youth
their dark tough serviceable summer
their brazen becoming of themselves
just before they let go
their Halloween afterlife
whispering whispering.

When I die I hope to go
on a huge wind
to a deep sky.
I hope somewhere in my soul
to taste the scent of leaves.

Wild Mercy
Elizabeth Cunningham
2007 Creatrix Books (scheduled for April release)

After reading The Maeve Chronicles — The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham, I understood that this writer has the heart of a poet. Consequently, I picked up a pre-release copy of her second collection of poetry, Wild Mercy, with hopeful expectation. As you can see from "Leaves" (sidebar) she did not disappoint.

Cunningham's poetry, like her prose, reflects her intellect, her sense of humor, her wisdom and her ability to experience the Divine as both transcendent and imminent. This intimate collection reveals a deeply personal appreciation of mercy, through stories of her family relationships and prayers to the natural world. In some poems, as shown in this excerpt from "Gathering Kindling," any demarcation between the two worlds is purely a construct of the reader's mind:

I am doing something ancient
taking these broken bits of forest
to kindle the hearth
to help my woodcutter husband
build the fire.

I am gathering fragments of sun
in my arms
and taking the fire inside.

I struggled to choose the poems to publish in this issue of MatriFocus. I smiled as I recognized myself in "At the Top of Trees, Mud Puddles" about a girl who loves to climb trees and build a world around a mud puddle. I felt my chest tighten when "Apple of His Eye, As All Outdoors" revealed family secrets, exposing her relationship with a less-than-perfect father. "What I want to say about mud is, we buried my father in it" ("Burial," p48) is the kind of raw honesty that all poets long to harness on the page and release into the imagination and heart of the reader.

Each section of the book begins with a Tarot card: Death, Empress, Hanged One, Moon, Star, Devil, Hermit and Judgment. The essence of each permeates the writing and the reading. Each card opens the door of understanding to the title and the commitment of the collection. As she walks us through this mythical journey she asks us to confront and welcome all the faces of death we encounter in the cycle of life. As we face each death, large or small, we are brought to new understanding of mercy and of our connection to all that is. Like the Tarot, these poems should be read more than once to discover the gifts hidden in each verse, and in the book as a whole.

Over the years I have found that some poetry is for reading alone, for quiet contemplation, while other poetry is to be read aloud to loved ones or joyfully shared with a stranger on the bus. Cunningham, like other mystical poets, has produced a collection blending both and topping it with a sprinkling of little esoteric gems.

This is a book of poetry for both poetry connoisseurs and those who love to be touched intimately by beauty and honesty. Like all good collections of mystical poetry, Wild Mercy will touch your heart and push you to the edge of your comfort zone, make you laugh and make you squirm.

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