To Some Women I Have Known by Re'Lynn Hansen

To Palm the Aorta

reviewed by Laurel Milburn

To Some Women I Have Known, winner of the 2015 Marie Alexander Poetry Series from White Pine Press, redefines the 70s memoir with a richly sincere lyric collection. Re’Lynn Hansen’s pristine collection To Some Women I Have Known takes the reader on an elegant journey through fear, fervor, and compassion. Her poems and lyric essays build a map of identities through some of the most permanent and delicate thumbprints left in memory.

She opens her book with “The Ghost Horse” that reads “We were going to get a horse. The horse would give us meaning… We would ride the horse from Illinois to Colorado and meet people along the way who would also give us meaning.” This “meaning” and significance comes with an unmatched and intense sincerity. The question that hangs above every syllable in this collection is not what the speaker remembers, but how the speaker remembers. She feeds the reader pieces of curious details to follow and consume, voraciously.

Hansen brings a touch of magic to the ordinary. “From Where I Stand on the Steps of the Romanesque Church” opens “Weddings seem unreal to me, and so it seems that I am not here, but only that I remember I was here. I’m already remembering how I stand on the steps of the Romanesque church and look at the vines growing gracefully on the building across the street and how the Cadillacs turn into the parking lot…”

Similar to the way that objects and images impact their environment on the page, Hansen's words begin to impact the reader. This is the type of collection that holds a 25-part poem about a woodpecker where “A documentarian, making a movie about the bird, mentioned that there is less to say about extinct woodpeckers than about our yearning to look for and even see them, whether they are there or not. This is the type of collection that will tickle the little sense of wonder we forget we have, and stretch it a mile long, like a thin, tense piece of yarn.

The book invites the reader to palm the aorta of the collection, to hold a heartbeat in the only fragile way heartbeats can be held. The speaker brings the reader along this special journey where “We both talk in nervous clichés. She asks me to come stand by the window and look out at the quiet cul-de-sac. It is all darkness, mailboxes, and sidewalks. She asks me if I can see anyone.”

Through the twelve poetically crafted lyric essays, the collection unfolds itself with vulnerability before the reader, and with a full complexity of tone, maturation, and awe. As if having a whispered conversation with a dear friend, the reader feels the speaker’s presence intensely where “It could be / I am circling outside my own story. You take care, you, she says, touching that bone above my heart.”