And Her Soul Out of Nothing, and the Poetry of Olena Kalytiak Davis

And Her Soul Out of NothingA coworker and I were talking poetry. (I’ve been on a bit of a poetry kick lately.) I’d asked her about her favorites, and when she mentioned Olena Kalytiak Davis, I was intrigued. I’d never heard of her.

After reading her first collection, And Her Soul Out of Nothing, I’m still intrigued. In a good way.

These poems center on the very soul of what we can’t hold:

That flicker of time before a new relationship begins. “I’m cutting into the thinly rolled dough of his life. I’m making over and over the shape that is me.” (from “Palimpsest,” one of my favorites in this collection)

The fear of stagnancy. “I thought: please don’t grow familiar. I think I said it out loud: Please don’t let me love you that horrible way. The situation is grave: the way we lean over each other, the way years later we emerge: hunchbacked, hooded, with full grown tender things called souls.” (from “All The Natural Movements Of the Soul”)

The soul-taking of some jobs is explored in “Like Working at Wal-Mart.”

She heard sad things all day
long in the usual turning
of phrases until it felt
everything she was touching
was just a neatly packaged beauty
supply or a deeply-discounted 
drug; what everyone needed: detergents 
and cosmetics; she scanned shells
for shotguns and rounds for 22s;
and while handling cheap bras and polyester 
socks she began to feel the flimsiness
of the lives of others. 
~ from “Like Working At Wal-Mart”

“It’s Shaped Like a Fork” is another one that resonated with me, making me think of some days during certain jobs I’ve had.

This house is a mess. Full
of solid notions
that keep turning into objects:
this simple sadness
that’s shaped like a fork
and the vague fear that crusts
these dishes. I’m vacuuming
over this grass-like pain.
Emptying pockets for the wash:
such a burden: not just wrappers
but keys and mints, those sticky
and sorrow-coated stones.
And this larger grief
that always needs to be folded.

All day I’ve been chewing
on my own acrid gloom,
trying to put away
the things you keep carrying
home from work: the possessions
of children and women
and drunks, stolen or cheated,
the tasteless unhappiness
of others into jars labeled:
Heartbreak, Injustice,
Just-Plain-Bad-Fucking-Luck.

These are poems about how relationships take one’s soul (“The Way He Sold It”).  There are poems with gorgeous, evocative, haunting fragments that make you want to know – no, need to know – the backstory that led to the urgency. You are intrigued.

Quick
before our bodies turn themselves in, 
with a reverence reserved for the dead touch me 
because I want to remember how beautiful I still am.
~ from “Something More Fragile Than This”

After I’m done pleading with the steering wheel,
after I’m done screaming at the white doors
of the Friendship Inn, no, even while I’m spitting 

and howling, I know, yes, this is the way
we find out about ourselves: crying in rental cars 
in parking lots in strange cities that are already

too familiar….
~ from “Resolutions In a Parked Car”

Olena Kalytiak Davis’ newest collection, The Poem She Didn’t Write, will be released November 24.

I, for one, am glad she did write these.