Author: Krista Lukas
Publisher: The Black River Press (Rainshadow Editions)
Publication Date: 2013
Poems can arrive to you in a variety of ways and like a good sign, they can lead you down the right path. I first read Krista Lukas’ poem “The Day I Die” when it appeared on The Writer’s Almanac. It has become one of my all-time favorite poems and I wrote a little bit about it in my grief blog. After reading her volume, Fans of My Unconscious, it is clear that Lukas has the gift of making us reexamine our lives not through the exceptional times, but in our day in and day out existence.
Lukas’ work allows our existence to take on emotional meaning in the most unexpected places. In the poem “What’s Your Favorite Animal” we are thrown into a car weighted with silence that her mother-in-law attempts to break through with the question of the title. It is a scene many of us have experienced. “On our way to dinner, hardly any traffic/Rain spatters the windshield,/the wipers squeak, everyone is hungry./In the darkness outside, our reflections/are grave, waiting for the answer”. The poem foreshadows several other poems where Lukas explores her divorce with both humor and angst. Here, the simple act of going to dinner is recast as the rain comes down, “the wipers squeak” and the reflections of the passengers are “grave, waiting for the answer.” Lukas presents such depth so simply, it is easy to read past it. But her words are worth a slow read.
It is her ability to not only observe these everyday moments but also see the depth these experiences convey, the stories they tell, that make her poetry sound both familiar and new. We hear what we already know but see it with a new perspective. Thus the power of her simple poem, “The Day I Die” in which she says that “The day I die will be a certain/day, a square on a calendar page/to be flipped up and pinned/at the end of the month. It may be August/or November, school will be out or in;/somebody will have to catch a plane.”
This poem hit me personally because my youngest son, Oliver, died from cancer at the age of six. He died on a Tuesday. It was in the midst of Tulip Time, a very large celebration in my town and I was on the festival’s board. My son was dead, but the next day was the first of three parades. That such a life-defining day for me was just another day in a week of festivals for someone else struck me at the time. Lukas captures that strangeness, the unique clashing of the ordinary and the extraordinary, in this poem.
Lukas avoids overburdening the reader, as many poets do, by also displaying the ability to laugh at experiences, herself, and all of us. As a stamp collector, I’m especially drawn to her consideration of the postal service’s confidence in creating a “Forever Stamp.” She laughs at our hubris which creates a stamp that will be “Good through the depletion/of fossil fuels, the rise of oceans/the desert’s expansion, the disappearance/of the atmosphere as we know it.” And while humorous, the poem works as a reminder that nothing, including us, is forever.
It is the task of the poet to make us look at the world anew. Lukas does this by addressing the everyday parts of life in which we can find poetry. As such, we find in her writing not just great poems, but a call to look for the poetic in life. When poets push us toward the poetic, they create work that is to be read and reread.
You can find out more about Lukas by visiting her website.