The Raincoat Colors by Helena Minton,
Finishing Line Press
(Georgetown, Kentucky, 2017),
The first poem in Helena Minton’s The Raincoat Colors establishes much of the book’s tone along with its dominant themes. “A family is a unit of measure” it announces/begins and four lines later, “A nuclear family is a unit of power.” Many of the poems in this collection investigate the meaning of family with a tender but steely eye. Grief and loss also suffuse these poems as the poet ponders the death of her father and, in his stead, visits the Paris she lived in as a child.
The Paris poems beautifully evoke place and the disorientation that often accompanies loss. The speaker is in a liminal state, past and present swirling together. In “Luxembourg VIII,” an ekphrastic poem as are many in the collection, the speaker says, “ I feel the relief of leaving the heat/but what am I stepping into?” Indeed, these poems are so filled with evocative questions, mystery, and dreamlike confusion— “And the rider?/ Is he someone/I’ve left behind?”– (“Dark Tasks, A Dream”)–that wondering becomes its own answer, the precursor to wisdom that seeks not resolution but follows the thread of a life unfolding.
Minton’s imaginative curiosity interrogates not just the drama of loss and grief but the mundane realm of everyday objects and situations: collections of reading glasses, the routines of a salesman in a model home, the life of a neighbor watching her grandson, the word “adamantine.” And the poems are so filled with close observation, so startling in their precision they make us see things as if for the first time. Minton shows us “sky the pebbled calm/of a Japanese garden” (“Impala”) and the anhinga that spreads its wings “like a bullfighter’s cape/minus the crimson lining” (“Thinking of the Anhinga”). It’s hard not to quote line after line for the sheer pleasure of their imagery.
These elegant, restrained poems reveal more with each reading, surely what we ask of every book of poetry.